I haven’t updated this blog in… what, two months? Maybe two and a half? I haven’t really been keeping track, but it’s always been in the back of my mind. What’s stopped me from posting? A couple of things; stress from working two jobs and a total lack of motivation and creativity, but mainly my failure and the embarrassment that tags along with it.
You see, in my last few posts I joyfully announced that I’d soon be finished my first draft of my first novel, in doing so fulfilling a lifelong dream of being an author. Not being a successful author, or an author who even sells a single copy, but an author who has finished writing a book, because that’s what writing a book makes you; it makes you an author. I wanted to be an author before my momentum and motivation came to a stuttering halt, and I’ll still want to be an author after the next inevitable bout of writers’ block too.
Ultimately, it’s down to me. I haven’t finished my novel yet. I let the pressure I put on myself by setting a deadline completely derail me. I lost faith in my plot, in my characters, in my ability as a writer, and the saddest thing is it’s all so damn predictable. I’ve written several posts about it on this very blog; I’ve posted articles on tips to beat writers’ block, how to stay motivated and persevering even if you and everyone else doubts that you can do it. But in the end, it’s you and the keyboard. And sometimes knowing how to beat something isn’t the problem, it’s making yourself do it in spite of your fear of failing.
I have fear, but fear doesn’t control my dream, it just can’t. Completing this is too important to me. I’ve had two months of excuses and feeling sorry for myself and doubting myself more than I ever have before, but now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get writing again. And the next time this happens, because it probably will, I’ll do the same.
Bottom line: Writing is hard, but nothing worth having ever comes easy.
A few weeks ago I was certain that I’d have a finished draft by the end of February. Well, it’s March now and it’s still not finished, so needless to say I was far too ambitious. I notched my arrow and it flew far past the target. That being said, I’m okay with it. It’s better to do the thing right than do it sloppily in an impressive amount of time.
Although I still have a few scenes to write – tricky ones – the problem for me at the moment is my timeline. I write totally out of order, it’s just something that works best for me. I always endeavour to start out in a linear fashion but to avoid writer’s block I often have to give up on a scene and start a new one to keep my momentum going.
Unfortunately, this tactic leaves me with several different timeline problems.
To give a little information on my book, I have three main characters. Two of them are in totally different social classes but they live in the same country and the other character is a soldier who lives in a neighbouring country. My problem right now is knitting together the different POVs so that they make sense to a reader. The events in the book affect my characters in different ways, but I need to figure out which order the chapters go in before I can call my first draft “finished”.
The timeline is super important, not only to make sure the novel makes sense, but also to create and maintain that all-important page turning tension. It’s a pickle, and it takes a lot more time than you’d think, especially with unfinished scenes.
My plan at the moment is to just finish all the scenes and then summarise them onto cards. Then I’m going to place the cards in a line and move them about as needed. Once I have a narrative I’m happy with, then I’ll put the chapters in the right order. Only then will I consider the first draft finished, so realistically I’m looking at another month of work.
It can be very hard to turn off from technology and work commitments and get yourself in the writing mood, but when you’re dedicated to following your dream and becoming a writer, you need to set time aside.
Someone on Twitter put it really well: see it as a daily appointment that you must always keep with yourself. When you think of it like that, it’s much easier to set other things aside and commit to a daily word goal. Make it a priority.
Other than this, there are a few other things you can do to get in the mood to write, write, write:
I don’t just mean music. I always fall asleep to the sound of heavy rain (I really dislike silence, it just doesn’t work for me) and I’ve found that anytime I hear it I get very relaxed. I get day-dreamy. It’s a calming, creative space that I’ve created for myself and it’s allowed me to explore a range of new sounds as well.
Nature sounds can be very helpful when writing particular scenes, for instance ocean noises would help place you in your created environment if it was set by the sea or seagull sounds for a scene at the docks. Play around with different settings and see if it helps you.
This might be the worst advice for someone who likes to write buried in a mound of pillows and fluffy blankets, but I always write better when I’m just a little uncomfortable. It feels more like work that way. If I’m so comfy I can feel myself getting sleepy, chances are I’m going to fall asleep when I should be writing.
Whether you’re perched on a hard wooden chair or you’re just a little too cold, try being a bit uncomfortable and watch your word count rise.
Sometimes writers forget that thinking is also part of the writing process. You don’t need to have your fingers balanced on a keyboard or a pen in your hands to be in the writing mood. Thinking through a particular scene or a character’s development in itself can make you want to sit down and write.
After all, there’s no point being in the writing mood if you have no inspiration and nothing to write. Spend an hour or two in a café or at a bus station and watch how people move, how they react to the mundane, how they walk down the street and what quirks they have. You might be surprised how excited you’ll be to write it all down.
Set up a routine
This is an important one if writing is your day job. It can be so easy to get lost in the dull hours of a day and you might find yourself taking “a quick break” only to be engrossed in a Netflix show a few hours later.
Whether it’s in the morning or at night time or half an hour at a time during meals, make a routine and stick to it. If you write best in the morning, sit down at your desk first thing and bang out 500 words with your breakfast. Whatever works best for you. Make sure to do it regularly, as if it was a job you can get fired from.
Make a steaming cup of tea
I’m Irish so I believe a cup of tea solves almost every problem, but it’s not just the warmth and comfort of a steaming mug that helps, it’s also the act of tea making. Filling the water and waiting for it to boil, then waiting as the tea bag steeps is a good time for you to go over some of the previous day’s writing.
It allows you to think what you’re going to do next and chances are it’ll be a few moments of solitude for you as you throw off sleep and start a new day (and a new page).
What gets you in the writing mood? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!
I finished Carve the Mark last week and I sat down today to write a review on it. I have a normal enough process; finish book, jot down my thoughts, check out other reviews to get a feel of what everyone is saying and then write review. This time around I noticed a huge amount of articles on how Carve the Mark is racist, and although this isn’t a topic I usually like to get involved in, I felt like I needed to give my two cents because of all the misinformation being spread.
First of all, I don’t understand how people can call this book racist, truly. They either haven’t read it carefully enough or they opened it looking for something to come across as racist. If it’s the former, they should have paid more attention, and if it’s the latter, that’s incredibly sad in my opinion. I personally think it’s an unhappy marriage of both, but it’s also because many of the articles I read have the misinformed notion that the book’s Shotet people (known for their barbarity) are dark skinned and the Thuvhesit people (known as a peace loving people) are white. This is not fact.
Most of the articles I’ve read calling out Carve the Mark for its supposed racism (like this popular one by Justina Ireland that I disagree with) base their article on the idea that the Shotet people are dark skinned. Far from being true, there is huge diversity in both the Thuvhesit and Shotet people. The villain of the series, Ryzek, who is a Shotet person and the head of the cruel Noavek family, is constantly described as white, pale, and skeletal. Cyra, on the other hand, who is described as dark skinned like her mother is actually the hero of the story. Akos, who is a white Thuvhesit person kidnapped by Ryzek’s goons, is not the hero and this is obvious to anyone who has read the entire book; he is a main character for sure but he consistently fails in his attempts to escape and would never have done so had Cyra not been as heroic and self-sacrificing as she is.
Not only does she put herself in danger numerous times to allow Akos to escape, she also puts aside the revenge she wants so that Akos can try to save his brother. Cyra is a completely selfless character constantly trying to help Akos despite the fact that if he left her, she would always have to deal with the excruciating pain her currentgift inflicts on her. She is willing to forever bear her pain so that Akos can be free. She is a hero in every sense of the word. So far we have a dark skinned hero, a white villain and his white slave; how exactly is this a racist book?
Eijeh and Cisi, Akos’ brother and sister, are both described as having brown skin despite being (the supposedly all-white) Thuvhesit, as is the chancellor of Thuvhe, Isae, who has light brown skin. As well as this, Shotet characters Teka, Zosita and Yma are all white characters described as having pale blonde hair. They are Shotet, not Thuvheist, so again, how have people come to think that the Shotet people are all dark skinned? Honestly, readers who claim Carve the Mark is racist are betraying their own deeply rooted prejudice, in my opinion, particularly because many did not finish it. It seems once Cyra was described as being a dark skinned Shotet person (a people known for their barbarity), they assumed the rest of the Shotet were also dark skinned. That says more about the reader than it does about Veronica Roth.
The only thing in this book that came across as remotely problematic to me was the description of Cyra’s mother’s hair, when Roth said it was “so curly it trapped fingers”. Now obviously this is an attempt to describe natural afro hair and although I don’t think Roth did a particularly good job at explaining this, I think it’s a far cry from racism. She’s not inferring her hair is inferior because of how curly it is, she’s simply trying to describe it, though I agree it could’ve been written much better. There is a great website called Writing With Colour that really helped me when writing characters of colour in my own novel, so check it out if you’re having trouble with descriptions as well.
I think this book actually has a very important message; that what we don’t understand, we fear. The Shotet and Thuvehesit people do not understand each other at all, and they have created so many rumours and lies about each other over the years that both sides have different versions of the truth; they have opposing origins for who started their feud, who is the hero and who is the villain. This is in parallel with our own real lives where many of us have irrational fear for other cultures we know little to nothing about. It is an expression of reality, and reality is not always pleasant or fair.
The people who allow fear to lead them – and in this case both of Carve the Mark’s cultures fall prey to this – will always be blind. It also shows us that hatred is learned, that prejudice is taught, and that whole cultures and whole groups of people can’t be tarred by the same brush. The Shotet and Thuvhesit are not divided by skin colour, they are divided by culture and prejudice.
You may disagree with me, but I read this book very recently from cover to cover and even went over passages again to check characters’ skin colours and confirm what I’ve said in this article. This isn’t something I thought I’d find myself doing when I first bought the book, but so be it.
Finally, Carve the Mark is not perfect by any means, but by that I mean the overall plot and pacing of the novel. It’s sloppy at times and a little inconsistent, the world building is quite blurry and it’s often plagued by a slow pace, but it’s not racist and it doesn’t encourage damaging, problematic tropes of dark skinned people being aggressors.
Any time I see or write the word ‘mojo’ in any context, an image of that crazy monkey Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls pops into my head. Wouldn’t it be great to take over a word and make it so indistinguishable from your character that anytime someone sees it they think of your creation? That’s the dream, right?
Well, it may be the dream but it’s something that feels very very far away from my abilities at the moment. I’ve been on a downer for the past week and I’m kind of ashamed to say I didn’t write any more of my novel. Not one single word. Nothing. And it’s not like I just forgot about it, it’s been on my mind all day every day.
I don’t have an excuse except that some of my old fear has crept back in. This fear that has masqueraded as writer’s block and crippled my progress for years cannot be allowed back in. If it settles in the most insecure parts of my mind it will rot away at my confidence until my motivation to write is just a distant memory.
I know why this is happening, too; I’m so depressingly consistent in my insecurity that I can pinpoint exactly why this fear has returned, but knowing why I’m scared doesn’t do much to eradicate the fear.
I’m so close to finishing my first draft, something I’ve never even come close to before, and the thought of completing my book only to be rejected is enough to make me want to stop completely so I never have to face it at all. If I can honestly say I never managed to finish my book so it never got a chance to be queried by an agent or publisher, it’s not quite as bad as total failure and rejection, right? The thought of my book going absolutely nowhere except a file on my hard drive and knowing that I’m not good enough to be published is enough for that fear to return.
I know it’s really just a defence mechanism. It’s something to protect me and my dream from being crushed. If I was the same writer that I was a couple of years ago, sure, I’d probably let my fear and insecurity take over and push the pause button on my book for yet another few months or years, but I’m not that writer anymore. I’m so scared of failure, but my dream is to be a writer and I can’t just let myself down because of fear.
J.K. Rowling was rejected many times before she was finally published, and her books are some of the most beloved stories of all time. She and countless other writers faced rejection again and again before seeing their stories on the shelves. I know logically that even if I’m not taken on by an agent or publisher that that doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer or that my story is bad, but I’m very sensitive when it comes to my work and I’m just worried that rejection after rejection is going to crush me. I know, I know, it’s useless to obsess over it before it even happens, but for whatever reason it’s all I’ve been thinking about this week.
I’m going to do myself a favour and kickstart my motivation today. I’m going to put on the kettle, settle down in a comfy chair and bang out at least 1000 words. Hopefully it’ll set me on the right track to get my draft finished or, at the very least, to banish some of that crippling fear.
I’m a pantser. Always have been, and probably always will be. Recently, I’ve taken a more ‘pantser/outliner’ approach, particularly in the last month. What I’ve discovered is that it definitely helps me visualise the big picture a lot better, and I give it the good ol’ college try, but ultimately I go back to old habits.
I’m not saying winging it is a bad thing, it can be a fantastic way for your characters to meander and for you as the author to explore their personalities, but when it comes to putting together a 70k+ novel, you can’t just be a pantser (though I believe Stephen King would disagree with me here).
I’m nearly finished my first draft. I have about 20k left to write (approximately) and with my word goal of 1k per day, I believe I’ll have a wonderfully messy, infuriatingly scattered manuscript ready for editing by the end of the month. However, I’m several weeks away from my deadline and I still don’t have an ending.
Something about picking a path for my characters to walk that leads to the end of the book is terrifying to me. What if I get it wrong? What if I have a solid book up until the last few chapters and I screw it up at the final hour? That’s the kind of thinking that stops any half decent writer from getting anywhere; fear. Useless, taunting fear that offers absolutely no benefits to an aspiring writer. All it does is make you stumble and stall and, for some unlucky souls, it can make you quit.
While I’ve been half-pantsing and half-outlining my novel from almost the very start, but I have a hope that it isn’t too late to get my thoughts together in the form of a clear, concise outline. I have my beginning, my middle and now I just need a solid ending, so that’s my plan for tomorrow. I’m going to sit down with a pen and paper and plot out what’s going to happen to my characters; who’s going to live, who will die and what shocking event is going to happen to bleed into the sequel.
Are you a pantser or an outliner? Which do you prefer and why? Comment below!
NaNoWriMo finished over two months ago and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (finally!), and in case you were wondering, yes, my novel is filled with cliché, overused phrases just like that one. However, the only reason I’ve even gotten this far is because I’ve put the editor in me firmly on the back burner and allowed myself to just write.
Many authors agree that the magic of writing is in the re-writing, and I couldn’t agree more. I know there are lots of problems with my draft and there will be plenty of things I’ll have to change, polish or re-write entirely, but for now I’m happy just to finish. That is the goal for this next month, and hard as it is sometimes, I do see myself with a full draft by the end of the month. I’m very excited!
It’s now officially the 5th of February so I have approximately 3 weeks left. In saying this, I’m not going to hold a rope at my own throat. If I don’t finish in the next few weeks I’m not going to make myself feel like a failure. I have a planned deadline that I don’t want to go over (and I don’t think I will unless I come down with dreaded writer’s block), but as long as the draft is mostly done by the end of the month, I’ll be happy enough.
This is just an update as to where I’m at with my NaNo novel (honestly I didn’t think I’d get this far). Once I get the first draft polished, I plan on re-reading it and making more changes, then I’ll approach an agent and publishers. After that, I’m going to go back to my initial story (check out my M.A.D. section to find out more about my first attempt at writing a novel) and create a proper outline for it (I think I’ve finally abandoned the ‘pantser’ life). Then for Camp NaNoWriMo I’m going to try for 50k again!