Getting My Mojo Back • Writing Thoughts

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?

writing mojo

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.

writing mojo

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.

writing mojo

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.

writing mojo

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.

Wish me luck!

 

Outlining A Novel And Getting… Somewhere • Writing Thoughts

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).

pantsing author

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.

pantsing author

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!

50,060 Words • NaNoWriMo 2016 Recap

50,060 words 

Like many NaNoWriMo participaints, at the start of the month 50k words was my goal. However, I truly didn’t think I’d actually be able to do it, even when I hit 43k words and 45k words and even at 47k when I had so little to go. I really didn’t think I’d do it. I thought I’d lose all motivation and give up on myself like I always do.

Needless to say, I’m immensely proud of myself. The furthest I’ve gotten to that number ever before was 20k words and that was over the course of a few months. I managed 50,060 words – coherent words at that – in just under a month. I finished on day 29.

One of the reasons I think I did this was because, for one thing, I was excited about my story and my characters. And secondly, I paced myself. I wrote a post halfway through November called ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race’. While other participants on Reddit’s r/nanowrimo and Instagram were boasting about their 20k word counts after just a few days, I took my time.

Even when I was on a roll with a scene, I stopped writing after approx. 2k words because I wanted to be able to start the next day on a good note. I never wanted to create a situation where I was facing a blank document with nothing to write because I used up all my creative energy the day before. There is something to be said for strategic writing.

Something I was surprised at was the fact I didn’t need a rewards system to keep me going. I put a chart on my wall featuring mini word goals with spots for gold stars. I filled the chart in for about 10 days and then stopped doing it. It didn’t feel necessary for me, and I’m quite glad of that. It shows me that I don’t need to bribe myself to keep going which, to me, is a good sign for someone who wants to make a living as an author.

Overall, the experience was a great one. Not only did I learn discipline and the art of writing every day, even if it’s only a little bit, I also wrote half of my first book in what I hope will be a trilogy. I expect the rest of book 1 to be covered in another 40k words or so to round it off at 90k. I know these seem like lofty goals, but after achieving so much in such little time, I feel like I can do anything.

I hope that high lasts.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race • NANOWRIMO 2016

It’s day 4 of NaNoWriMo 2016 and I’m about to start writing my words for the day. I’m feeling confident about the scene I’m writing so I figured I’d take a few minutes to write an update on how the challenge is going!

My total so far is 5,300 words, which I’m delighted about. It’s taught me that even writing a little bit a day is so important and it’s something that I’m going to try and continue after I’ve finished my draft. That’s another thing as well; I’ve realised that I am capable of writing a novel despite all my crippling insecurities. Hard work and commitment will get me there.

I absolutely know that I will finish the challenge at the end of the month with 50,000 words under my belt, something I’ve never managed to do before. I’m already planning on how I’m going to celebrate and I’m feeling so happy with how my story is going that I genuinely think I’ll continue editing it and adding to it over the next few months. So all in all, NaNoWriMo couldn’t be going better!

write every day

One thing I worried about was reaching the 1,667 word goal every day but it hasn’t been a struggle so far. Yesterday while I was lurking on the NaNo sub on Reddit, I noticed that a lot of people were posting about their word counts (some of which were five figures already) and it made me a little nervous about my own figure, even though I’ve exceeded my goal every day.

This is one of the reasons past participants have warned about comparing yourself to other writers/checking their progress against yours and other detrimental things. You start to doubt whether you’re doing as well as you thought, and that only leads to demotivation and procrastination and, finally, giving up.

From my experience so far, I think the approach of ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is the best course of action. Obviously, everyone is different, but I think it would be easy to burnout if you went hell for leather in the first few days. On day one, for instance, I had a good idea of the first five or six scenes I’d write, but I’m glad I didn’t try and do it all at once. Not only does this give you a bit of breathing room (and time to think of other details for the scenes), it also gives you something to start with each day. There’s nothing worse than facing a blank page when you haven’t the faintest idea where to start.

writing nanowrimo

Now if you’ll excuse me, I should be writing!

Are you participating this year? What do you think so far? Best of luck to everyone!

The 5 P’s • Creating Characters

I found this list of the 5 P’s to remember when creating characters on Pinterest and decided to write it out here as I think it’s very useful for anyone having trouble fleshing out characters.

Some of them overlap but I think there are a lot of good things to consider here that you may not have thought of before. I for one didn’t think twice about what kind of food my characters eat in the world I’ve created or what their voices sound like or their hobbies.

So many of these things seem unimportant while writing a book because you’re just so focused on getting it finished, but certainly during the editing process the following aspects are worth taking a look at to add dimension to characters that don’t jump off the page.

Unfortunately, I have no clue who actually created this list originally but here’s the link to where I found it! I hope it helps!

Physical: 

  • Age
  • Voice
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Height
  • Size
  • Health
  • Assets
  • Flaws
  • Sexuality
  • Gait

Psychological: 

  • Intelligence
  • Temperament
  • Happiness
  • Attitudes
  • Self-knowledge
  • Habits
  • Unconscious aspects

Personal: 

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Birthplace
  • Childhood
  • Education
  • Hobbies
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Lifestyle
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Profession
  • Possessions
  • Wealth

Personality: 

  • Wants
  • Hopes
  • Fears
  • Thoughts
  • Memories
  • Resentments
  • Dreams
  • Denial

Practices: 

  • Says
  • Wears
  • Eats
  • Buys
  • Works at
  • Plays at

As a reader, one of the biggest disappointments I face is reading about a character who is flat and boring. The plot itself can be riveting but if I don’t make a connection to the characters then that’s a big deal. Stories are about characters; through them a story pulls on your heartstrings or makes you grip the pages in anger. They make it seem real and they give the story heart, they make the reader care. 

You have to put as much effort into moulding the characters who will populate your story and bring it to life as you do the plot. Ultimately, a character that isn’t fully fleshed out can tank a story in the heart of a reader – it’s happened to us all and it’s what gets that 2/3 star rating on Goodreads when it could’ve been a 4 if the author just spent a little more time on character creation.

Think of your characters like real people, people with hopes and dreams and fears who have their own individual beliefs and experiences based on the environment they’re in. Once you think of your characters as real, even people you might be friends or enemies with, writing about them will feel much more natural.

What helps you create characters? Let me know in the comments!

The Writing Circle • WRITING PROGRESS

The Writing Circle is very important to me in terms of writing progress, but it’s something of a curse that has followed me around since I first started writing when I was 11.

The Circle is made up of a select group of people in my life – besides the mostly anonymous internet, like you fine readers – who I talk to about my novel-in-progress. This is not a large group of people and there’s a very good reason for that.

In the past, any time that I became super excited about an idea, I told people that I was going to write a book. This is it, I’d said, I’m going to write it! Of course, I didn’t write it. I didn’t write anything for a long time until quite recently, least of all the beginnings of a novel.

It may seem silly or superstitious but I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to announce my dream to people and then end up crushing it myself with my lack of self-esteem or because I give up on myself like I always do.

I’m fine with talking about it here because, in a way, people don’t feel truly real when you know they’re reading behind a computer screen. If they hate it, you don’t often know. If they hate it and comment how much they hate it, you can just delete it. You can hide from judgement and other people’s opinions.

For instance, if I do fail in my attempt to write my novel, I could (I won’t, but I could) just delete all posts relating to it or delete this blog or abandon this blog and never have to look at it again. In my head, there’s no harm done. My dignity and dream is intact, right? But if people I know expect me to write a book and then I don’t… what does that say about me? What do they think about that? Those kind of thoughts drive me nuts and make me second-guess myself.

It strikes fear in me and makes me nervous about continuing because if (best case scenario) I do finish the book, what if it’s then bad? There are so many obstacles that I create for myself and I know it all stems from a lack of faith, but it cripples me sometimes. This feeling of self-doubt and fear of humiliation really does affect how often I write, even though I shouldn’t let it.

Ultimately, I find the best way for me to write is to talk about my book as little as possible and to avoid telling new people who I know personally anything about it. Once I finish the book and prove to myself that I can actually do it – that it’s not just a pipe dream – I’m sure this cloud of self-doubt and fear will dissipate. For now, however, I’m going to play it cautious. I don’t want something I’m passionate about to crumble just because of my fears and the opinions of others.

I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Let me know in the comments if you’ve had these thoughts before!

Creating Compelling Characters • Writing A Novel

One of the most important aspects of a good book is properly developed, compelling characters. This is arguably more important than plot when it comes to success (case in point: Twilight) and characters that a reader connects with will stick with them long after the details of a plot has faded. It is integral to create not only likeable characters, but characters with layers.

This is something that I think about a lot. I’m in the middle of writing my first book and, although I still have to map out some plot points, my characters need to be the first priority. You could have the best plot in the
world and the most pleasant writing style, but if the characters are flat and dull and forgettable the book overall won’t be as good. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of writing a crucial plot point and when you’re focused on nailing the story, the characters can fall by the wayside.

I find that the editing phase is when you can fully round out a character. You may come up with some stellar ideas for a character that seems to work while you’re writing, but upon re-reading you may see that it just doesn’t work. By the time you re-write certain aspects of your story, you could end up with a character that is entirely different to the one you initially imagined. And that’s not a bad thing!

why isnt this working

The Trope Trap 

Very often I find myself falling in the ‘trope trap’, where my characters seem to be generic stereotypes that readers have faced a hundred times before. This is a huge fear for me. We read so many books with similar characters, it’s easy to end up forming a similar one in your mind without really noticing that it’s not that original.

When this happens, you don’t have to panic and change the character’s whole makeup; the nature of a character comes in their decision making and their dialogue – it makes them real – so make sure to focus on this if you do fall into the trope trap. After putting effort into making them complex, thinking beings with intelligent dialogue that fits their character, you still might end up with a stereotypical character, but see how they progress over the story. At the end, you may notice some obvious changes you could make to add to their history, or to explain why they think the way they do, or to add small details that totally changes a reader’s perspective of them.

Break out of the box 

Don’t feel the need to make all of your characters beautiful either. I’ve read so many books where the main character is gorgeous and so are the two men pining for her affection. It’s always the same scenario: girl who doesn’t think she’s beautiful but is beautiful meets two equally beautiful guys at different times. Guy #1 is the strong, bad boy type who is kind of mean to the main character at first but then proclaims his undying love for her. Guy #2 is the nicer guy, the clearly better choice for her, maybe the best friend who has loved her since forever who usually doesn’t get the girl in the end. Although this seems to be a tried and tested formula, it gets very tiring after your 20th book with this same thing going on.

Avoid insta-love 

Insta-love is another thing you should try and avoid, in my opinion. Maybe it’s just the type of books I’m reading (which is mainly the YA, fantasy/sci-fi genre) but I constantly see this. A girl has spent less than five minutes with a guy and is willing to throw away everything she knows and loves for him. Now perhaps this is because of the demographic I read, and therefore the teenage puppy-dog, hormonal love is understandable, but I want a compelling, slowly built love story dammit!

Embrace flaws 

Just look at J.K. Rowling’s characters in the Harry Potter series, which are some of the most vivid and compelling I’ve ever read. She didn’t feel the need to make them all beautiful and they didn’t succumb to insta-love either; Hermione and Ron’s relationship started as genuine friendship and it progressed into something much more complicated and intimate. Their character designs, too, were so unique and Rowling wasn’t afraid to make them awkward. Harry wore glasses, had a lightning bolt scar and his black hair was always standing on-end, Ron was a redhead with an even redder face when he was emotional, he was poor and he wore shabby clothing and Hermione was an extremely intelligent, bushy-haired girl with dodgy teeth. With just a few small details, you can paint a very clear picture of these characters in your head.

creating characters
Art by Sukie Blackmore

When all the characters in a book are described as handsome or beautiful, all of their visual details kind of blend into one another. For me, anyway. Don’t be afraid to make your characters physically ugly or fat or disabled. Don’t make them perfect. Very often you can make part of what they look like a factor in the plot. As I’m on the topic, don’t be afraid to have different races in your story either, or create a whole new race of people with their own defining characteristics. This kind of approach also helps in world-building, but it also lets the reader know that you’ve really thought hard about your characters and the world you’ve built.

Background characters 

Background characters, I find, are so much easier to create. Most of the time, they exist to prop up the main characters and to drive plot points. You can really do whatever you want with these characters and you don’t have to explain it in the same way you would with a main character. There’s a lot of freedom here to add small, seemingly insignificant details that just add that little extra. You know the way in TV shows and movies there are ‘easter eggs’? Backgrounds and background characters are a great way to have a bit of fun with this kind of thing.

Overall, spend time with your characters and get to know everything about them. If you’re lucky enough to get a book published, thousands of readers will meet the characters you’ve created, and it would be a pity if something small about your character caused a plot hole or an inconsistency. Write out a list of questions that you’d ask a lover or a friend to get to know them better and fill it out for your character. Know everything about their life, and I mean everything. It could take some time but it is worth it in the long run. Naturally, you don’t take this approach with every character, but try it on the main ones and see what happens.

What are your tips for creating compelling characters? Let me know in the comments below!