Having struggled to write much of anything during 2020, I’m now trying to hit 35,000 words by the end of July in Camp NaNo. Unlike the usual NaNoWriMo in November, you can set your own goal in the camps, and in comparison to my previous years, I’m going easy on myself.
In comparison to the rest of THIS year, however, it’s a mission.
I still find it difficult to write in the daytime, while the kids are around, and I’ve still got work to finish in the evenings, especially if I haven’t been able to do enough of it in the daytime because of small humans wanting attention! (They’re pretty good, but they’re still small humans!)
I have managed to keep myself working on The Willing, which is a real win because I have no idea where this story is going anymore. It feels like I’ve re-planned it a million times and I’ve got to the point now where I’m actually just going to write and see what happens! It worked out well with Zero Degrees.
Unfortunately, it makes it really difficult for me to enthuse myself about starting because I don’t have any scenes in mind. At the moment I’m writing a scene following a time-skip, and it feels like there should be something else between one scene and the next, but damned if I know what it is! I’m trying not to care! I might loosen up a bit and write out of order! Mad lad.
OK I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to write today… so if in doubt make a picture?!
This is a quick mood board for Changeling, the book I’m currently in the very early stages of writing. It’s not actually a horror story, but is probably the closest thing I’ll ever come to writing horror. And the content is pretty horrifying to me, as it’s about children going missing.
The child in question, daughter of Aggie and Ruby, is taken by fairies and replaced by another child. Usually changeling children are mistreated by their new parents because they’re unsettling and different to the original child. There are a lot of incredibly sad stories that suggest that in the past autistic children were the most likely to be considered changelings, and the things that parents would do to drive out these ‘demons’ from their children just doesn’t bear thinking about.
I didn’t actually want to make my child characters autistic, mostly because it’s SO FREAKING SAD that this happened and I cried reading the history my friend sent me. Cannot cope. I wouldn’t have a problem with someone seeing my characters as autistic but I’m writing them as severely traumatised – April has lived with the fairies for two hundred years and is thrown into modern life with only a short-lived glamour to make her look like the missing child, May (the fairies think they’re funny). She’s been fed stories of the horrors that changeling children have to endure because my fairies are twisted and vicious and just… horrible.
However, Aggie and Ruby are not about to start blaming their child for suddenly acting different. After all, she went missing before they luckily found her hours later. That just suggests that she’s traumatised by something, and they’re going to try and help her and love her.
And when they do finally find out that this is NOT their daughter… well, they don’t blame April. But they’re damned if they’re going to leave May behind.
I very rarely write out of order – certainly anything I write by hand, I write from start to finish, after relatively careful planning (or at least a lot of daydreaming and watching the story happen before my eyes!)
However, this isn’t working for me at the moment. Sometimes I’ll find that I’m at a point that bores me, so I don’t want to write the setup for later action. Sometimes it’s because I’m worried that I’ll screw it all up and then have to write something important later that should have come earlier… weirdly enough that’s one of the reasons why I decided to write out of order, at least for a little bit.
I write by hand so that I’m forced to re-draft everything once it’s on computer. A lot of what I write is going to change massively when I transfer it over – in the case of The Willing, there’s not much I’ve kept the same! So if I know it’s all going to change, why not write the fun stuff I want to write WHILE it’s fresh in my mind? If I’m afraid of writing something out of order by accident, maybe I can take that fear away by making it part of the status quo.
I haven’t even planned Passing out properly! I know what it’s about, I’ve got a big mind-map with plenty of details and arcs written down, but I haven’t worked out the story properly. But the other day I had a scene for these characters so clearly in my head! I knew it would probably be years before I get to focus on Passing (there are so many other ideas sitting ahead of it in the queue!), but I didn’t want to lose that vivid scene. So I now have 3 pages of writing in this new notebook, characters with no introduction interacting with no explanation, and it may never be used. But it’s like a snapshot, and it certainly gives a feel for the story. I’m hopeful that this method will help me get back into writing a bit more!
A couple of days ago I decided to have a day off from my usual job (I mark papers and tutor kids for an online school, so unsurprisingly we’ve been pretty busy during the Coronavirus lockdown!) and spend all of my usual work time writing.
I managed 900 words.
By the end of the day I was fuming at myself, gutted and disappointed that I’d ‘wasted’ all day by not being productive, not being able to create. I can write 2k in an hour, easily, but today? Nothing. I just couldn’t get the motivation to write at all.
Part of it is the fact that I know I can’t get a good run at it. I can’t immerse myself in the story and lose track of time because my kids are around and will come and find me every half hour or so to tell me about their wobbly tooth, or ask me a maths question, or just see if I want to read the last sentence they’ve written. I don’t want to bury myself so deep in a story that I’m a grumpy git when they drag me out of it!
But to be honest, a lot of the problem is anxiety, and the best illustration of that is how much manic crafting I’ve been doing! I can’t sit with my hands still for any length of time, but I’m too anxious and my thoughts too scattered for writing, so I make blankets and cardis and bags, and I count, and count, and count. If I’m counting I’m not worrying.
And I’m trying to convince myself that that’s OK. The world is a terrifying place sometimes, doesn’t mean I’ll never be able to write again! I just have to change it up a bit.
Sometimes that’s going to mean making all the Christmas presents early. Hey! You never know! I might then be able to write loads in December.
The other thing I’m doing is loads of planning. I can’t write write, but I can still daydream about a story, and writing notes about the different scenes I’d like to put into one novel or another is something that I can do, for some reason. It’s also something I can do with my kids around, and actually they’re pretty good at helping! For example, they came up with a lot of the magic obstacles that Ruby and Aggie have to go through to rescue their children in Changeling (those kids have dark, dark minds…) and they’re also delighted by the idea that I’m planning out a story with a Merman and a human man falling in love.
Sometimes the world changes around you, and it makes it hard to do things the way you usually would. In those situations, you have to change too. I’m starting to learn that (again…) and I’m trying to be kinder to myself. Planning is usually a part of writing that I dislike, but right now it’s something I can actually do, so at least I feel like I’ve achieved something. And psychologically? That’s hugely important right now!
What do you guys do to work around changes in your life? If you can’t work as usual, how do you roll with the punches and still keep productive?
And remember, it is OK to not be productive all the time! This is a fact I will one day learn myself, but I hope you’ll take this as explicit permission to CHILL OUT sometimes! Your mind needs to hibernate. You need to look after yourself, and sometimes the healthiest thing you can do for yourself (and your art/writing/crafting/whatever) is to stop doing it for a while. Peace!
My kids and I have been watching art tutorials on YouTube and follow one in particular, SuperRaeDizzle, because she’s pretty entertaining. However a video of hers that I watched recently made me think about what it would mean to one day make something like a living from writing.
(I’m not expecting to do that any time soon, by the way! But you know. A girl can dream!)
When I was a teenager I once wrote a letter to my older self, reminding me of all the things I’d wanted to achieve when I was 15, hoping that I wouldn’t forget what it was like to be a teenager, hoping that I wouldn’t be the kind of person who laughed at their younger self. Now, for various reasons (*cough*dissociative disorders*cough*) I can’t be that kind of person. I live with various versions of my younger selves in my head all the time! But it’s still worth maybe doing something similar now.
The biggest thing that I’m wary of is that once it becomes a job, it’ll become something I don’t want to do, or feel like I have to do. It’ll become an obligation. I love writing, I would go so far as to say I need it. I don’t want to back away from it because it becomes too much for me.
I suppose the thing to do to avoid that is to only write what I want to. I’ve been surviving without an income from writing for a long enough time that I can continue to do so – I don’t NEED to write things I don’t love. I guess the challenge is remembering that when there are other pressures on me. Hopefully I will be able to avoid those other pressures – let’s be honest, they’ll probably be self-inflicted anyway! That’s just how I roll…
Of course that then feeds into the other thing I want to avoid – I don’t want to stop believing in what I’m writing, I don’t want to churn stuff out because I think other people will like it. My fanfic background is pretty reassuring on that front – I tend to write really weird niche stuff like crossovers between Dirk Gently and X Men, so hopefully I won’t feel too much of a need to just reproduce what worked already? Again, as long as I stick to writing what I really love, then hopefully that’ll solve that one too!
For the first time in my LIFE I’m writing my blog early for this week, and that’s because I’ve just been told I’m allowed to make an announcement about this!
I signed a contract with Bold Strokes Books! Not Broken is now being officially published in Spring 2021 (my original self-published version has been taken off Amazon) and would you LOOK at this beautiful cover?!?
I have been sitting on this news since I signed the contract, waiting until the publisher was ready to do their press release as well. I’m so massively excited about it all and everyone I’ve been in contact with has seemed so friendly and enthusiastic. I feel incredibly lucky, and so excited! This is a dream come true for me, as it is for any author! Cue the excited flailing!
As I’m listening to music, some of it will often strike me as being the perfect mood for a WIP. Which is why I have a vast quantity of playlists on spotify…
Here’s the one I’ve made for The Willing – if I’m writing on my computer (rather than out at an after school club (remember those?!) or in a cafe waiting for an appointment), I’ll usually play the relevant playlist. My need for music while writing can be pretty flexible, but when I need to have it on, playlists are a godsend.
A lot of the songs are a product of what I’ve been listening to when I’d solidified the idea enough to make a playlist out of it – so this one has a lot of the Palo Santo album by Years and Years, lots of Norah Jones and Muse (because I listen to them all the time) and Bastille.
Other songs are on there because there’s a particular word or phrase that’s hit me and I just couldn’t resist! Which is why I have Cancer and Dead! by My Chemical Romance, and Bring Me To Life by Evanescence… it’s a book about a girl who can bring people back from the dead! It was meant to be! There’s also The Sun Doesn’t Like You by Norah Jones because Talia is teased for being stereotypically Scottish by Matt!
Some of them are more of a vibe for a particular character. Shatter Me by Lindsey Stirling and Lzzy Hale, I Need a Dollar by Aloe Blacc and Bliss by Muse are quintessential Talia songs, while If I Could by Jack Johnson, Wish I Could by Norah Jones and Was There Nothing? by Asgeir are perfect for Kitty.
Warmest Winter by Thea Gilmore is more perfect for the midpoint of the story, when Talia starts to settle into trusting Kitty’s family, who are nothing like her abusive mother. She doesn’t want to risk trusting them, but it’s happening deep inside her anyway.
In my head a lot of these songs play over certain scenes or even just hazy images or montages of the story. I guess I’m heavily influenced by film, as I suppose most of us are, so the importance of music to a story is inbuilt into how I write.
Look at the tragic lack of any writing that happened this month!
It’s not like I’m surprised, of course, and May is set to be just as bad. What with homeschooling, work being busy this time of year anyway, and extra work due to finding alternative evidence for exams, I haven’t had any brain space for creativity. And that’s not even taking the inherent stress of lockdown into account!
I have been keeping my creativity alive by doing lots of crochet (it’s something I can do while helping the kids, or standing in a supermarket queue!) and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things once the schools re-open. Once May is over the stress of exam season will be done so hopefully I’ll have more writing time and brain-space anyway. Just one more month of this manic level!
Aaaannnd there’s going to be a super exciting announcement coming up soon, I hope! Watch this space!
Unsurprisingly March has been terrible for writing for me! It’s usually busy at work anyway, and as I work online from home all the time the lockdown hasn’t changed that. But I’ve also got my kids at home full time too, so it’s pushing it to try and get much done! Hopefully I’ll have some free time… some day… and then hopefully I’ll be able to actually write something IN that free time!
I’m surprised at how much stuff I uploaded this month, though, especially considering I’m actually late uploading two of my ongoing fics on AO3! Oops!
Of course everyone’s routines are completely messed up at the moment – my writing has ground almost completely to a halt, but hopefully we all, as a society, can be kind with ourselves about productivity taking a drop.
My two kids (Bug, 6, and Bee, 9) are off school, and to pre-empt their boredom and grumpiness I’ve tried really hard to make this whole homeschooling (while mummy also tries to continue with the online job 😬) a bit of an adventure.
We’ve got two lists of activities they can choose from each day: with mummy and without. When they do without mummy stuff I shut myself in my office and work, but we all have to respect the timing, so they leave me alone because they know in an hour I’ll be back with them.
Of course it’s a lot easier because I homeschool for a job (not like this though!) and because my work isn’t changing, so at least one routine is consistent. Also they’re at a great age, and I trust them to do what I’ve asked. I’m hoping that this will be a good experience, but I’m also well aware that there will be incredibly difficult times as well and I have to prioritise my mental health rather than trying to force myself to do everything.
Stay safe everyone! And if anyone wants any resources let me know, I have quite a few!