Take a Break

Why having some time away from writing can be beneficial.

“If you don’t write every day, how can you consider yourself a writer?”

First of all, let’s have none of that. A more unhelpful and unrealistic approach to writing, in my view, does not exist. More than anything else, such a statement is ultimately geared towards making those of us who do not write every day feel inferior. Not as dedicated. Not as good. That’s a mess I’d rather not get into, save for saying that those who espouse such views are guilty of the worst kind of snobbery. Let us instead focus on the positives that come from not just not writing every day, but from taking planned breaks.

I’m currently very much on a break from writing. A planned break. I have not thrown my hands up halfway through a project and decided to give up, though sometimes if a project is causing you distress than taking a short, unplanned break can be immensely beneficial. Our writing is important to us all, but your health must come first. Taking regular breaks, doing something else entirely, not only helps to reduce your stress level but can improve your writing when you do come back, refreshed and ready.

What I mean by a planned break is that I know precisely what projects I will move onto after this break. I have just finished the first draft of a new novel, the word count of which is currently sitting at 228,00. Editing that is going to be a monumental effort, and I’d very much like to feel genuinely rested when I begin to tackle it, coming at it with fresh eyes. There is, of course, a fine line between taking a break and procrastination, but this is where an element of planning comes in.

I shall soon be receiving the manuscript of the third Figment Wars YA novel for my final proofread and seal of approval, ready for publication. This is a vital part of the writing process and will require my full attention when the time comes. I worked extra hard to get the first draft of this other novel done before the manuscript was sent to me, and I have. I’m now enjoying a brief rest period as a reward for that effort. I also know what will signal the end of that break, and what will be required of me. Once I’ve signed off on the manuscript, I have an idea for a One Act play that I shall be tackling. Once that is done, I shall return to the 228,000 word draft and be able to be entirely objective in my editing. The key is planning, knowing which projects you’re going to tackle and in what order. Sometimes there’s a sense of logic and necessity that guides such decisions, other times we have to make some tough choices. We all have a hundred and one ideas floating around in our head. Sometimes you just have to choose, and once you have, stick with it.

Taking this planned break has allowed me to catch up on a few things. I find I’m reading more, and allowing myself to indulge in a few old video games that I’ve always found enjoyable. As restrictions ease I’ve been able to meet up with a few people and catch up with friends. Of course, we can do all these things while we’re working on a writing project. It’s a matter of balance, keeping ourselves driven in writing while not neglecting other aspects of our lives. Still, I am very much a proponent of the idea of taking planned breaks where no writing is done at all. I firmly believe that our best ideas come to us unexpectedly, when we’re at rest. That’s where notepads come in, of course!

Not all writers are able to write full time. The vast majority of us have day jobs and other projects that require our attention. I’m about to return to work in TV and film production as an extra/supporting artiste, something I’m very excited about. During the times when such work is coming thick and fast, it is more than likely that I won’t have much time to write. Forward thinking and planning come into play once again here. Rather than look back and lament the lack of time for writing, I am acknowledging it beforehand and accepting that I will be able to make time for writing later.

Whatever your circumstances, I always advocate making time to rest and take a break from writing every now and then. It can be a gruelling and demanding process, as we all know, so it is important to be kind to yourself. Never beat yourself up if you don’t write every day, and pay no attention to those who would think less of you for it. Life is what we’re all aiming to reflect in our writing, so be sure to make time to live!

Crafting That Brave New World -Vol 3

Volume 3 in my World Building series of blogs, looking at the nature of belief in a fantasy setting.

I’ll start by acknowledging the fairly lengthy gap between this blog and the last in this series. It’s been a long time. There, consider it acknowledged. Truth be told, I started a new part time job back in October which has meant my blogging efforts (such as they are) have taken a back seat. In all fairness to myself, I have also been very busy actually writing. Indeed, the very project that prompted this series of blogs on world building is coming along nicely.

A swift reminder, folks, that this series of blogs is to document my own experiences and discoveries when taking on the creation of a whole fantasy world, and should not necessarily be taken as expertise. One day, perhaps, but for now I am stumbling through and trying to make as much sense of it all as I can. Nothing new there.

This particular entry shall focus on the subjects of belief, faith and organised religion. The chapter I just finished drafting has my main character come face to face with the equivalent of a demon in his world. I may even go so far as to say the devil himself. Obviously I don’t wish to give too much away regarding this particular project, but suffice to say the being he comes across is not quite what it seems, or what my main character expected. This got me thinking as to the nature of belief.

My current project is being written, by and large, in the first person. My main character is reflecting on his life, during which his beliefs have undergone a great many changes, mostly as a result of his experiences. What I have found tricky recently is reflecting this in my character’s voice. He must describe his actions, his feelings and his beliefs as they were at that time in his life. The fact that he is recounting the events after many years could, if I am not careful, lead to too much being given away about how he will change throughout the story. So far I believe I have avoided this, but no doubt some points will be picked up in editing. That’s what it’s for.

So, without giving too much away here and now, just what are my main character’s beliefs? As a child, he listened to the sermons he was required to, and was forbidden from speaking of the devils he would later meet in person. He had, in my view, a child’s faith, but one with room to erode over time. He comes across many more devout than him, some of whom would not have coped with the experiences he ends up having, simply because their faith would not allow them to. My main character ends up conversing with both angels and demons, and discovers that the lines between them are blurred.

This might all sound a little woolly, but I firmly believe that it better reflects the full and in many ways true nature of belief. There are always those who believe more resolutely than others. Some people’s beliefs change over time and find their faith either growing stronger or waning. Some will hold firm to their beliefs, seemingly no matter what. Of course this is not always limited to religious beliefs, but for the purpose of this blog, we are very much discussing the main religion of the world I have set out to create.

When creating a whole culture, it is far too simplistic to say that everyone within that culture believes the same thing, or even if they all follow the same religion that they all follow it with equal devotion. You will always have your silent doubters, unwilling to speak up about their misgivings. Then there are the shallow, paying lip service to a system when it suits them. You will also get those who seek to use religion to further their own ends. Take a good look around our own world and tell me I’m wrong.

Then, of course, there will always be the equivalent of atheists. Those who reject the dominant belief system entirely. Then you’ve also got those who interpret the dominant belief system differently to others. Again, take a look at our own world and you’ll see what I mean. When crafting the religion of a whole new world, I believe it is important to reflect the nature of belief. Your characters live in this world, but they are not automatons. They each see the world differently, and will have their own thoughts and levels of belief. To have everyone believe precisely the same thing is robbing yourself of the chance for great conflict.

So, with all this in mind, what are some of the things to consider when crafting a religion in a fantasy setting? Again, remember that these are just my own thoughts on what I’ve done so far. You’ll find no theological degree attached to my name, but here we go just the same.

In any organised religion, there is a structure. A hierarchy. The person at the top. In my case, it is a race of beings seen and spoken to only by one person at a time, the Warlock Emperor. These beings, these angels, select one person to rule over the empire, their chosen representative. They do not present as omnipresent gods, however, more like guides or teachers. Their choice of emperor, however, is absolute and to suggest that their choice is flawed would be considered heresy of the worst kind. The Warlock Emperor sits atop the throne, commanding both the civil and religious bodies of the empire.

Of course, as with any religion, the ministers and followers are organised. In my world, there is the Congregate, the body that administers the teachings of these higher beings to the masses. Of course, there are plenty of names to give to such religious bodies, all of which can sound grand or intimidating when spoken by a character with enough reverence. I went with ‘Congregate’ to suggest a more humble purpose, but the reality is quite different. Once again I’m verging on giving too much away, and this first draft isn’t even finished yet.

Within this religious body I’ve created, there are the ministers, responsible for preaching. I’ve gone with the simple term ‘Followers’, to once again suggest a kind of humble nature to this system of belief. The duplicity therefore lies in what the characters within this system do, despite the image of humility they present.

I certainly haven’t forgotten the dissenters. Those who go against the dominant belief setting one way or another. Indeed, I’ve got a civil war brewing over whether or not these higher beings actually exist, as well as a secretive, forbidden cult that are considered highly dangerous, and not without reason.

The main point to consider when creating a religion for a fantasy world is how that religion and the society you have created intertwine. Do you have characters for whom religion is not necessarily a big factor in their lives? Do you have characters that would do anything in the name of their beliefs? Are there conflicts between differing factions, and how did they come about? All these are things you can look at to give your world and the beliefs of those in it greater verisimilitude.

The main impact this can have on your actual storytelling is that it can greatly inform and enhance the interactions between certain characters. What one character says can provoke a number of different reactions depending on who they’re talking to. Does what they say carry more weight with another character because of their beliefs? This is very much how much of the real world works, so weaving it into the world you’re building can only enhance your writing.

Crafting That Brave New World -Vol 2

Volume 2, detailing my exploration of world building.

Geography has never really been my strong suit, even after I got 99 out of 100 on a geography test in Year 9. The missing point was because I’d misplaced Bordeaux on a map of France. It is, however, maps that I’ll be discussing in this blog and how important they are when world building.

As well as not being much of a geographer, it will surprise few to learn that I’m not particularly skilled at drawing. Embarking on this new project has meant having to more than brush up on both, although admittedly the map I have drawn for the world I’m building will be most likely handed over to a professional at some point with a cry of “Make this look much better, please!” The map itself, crude as it may be, is something I’ve found to be surprisingly helpful in visualising not just the world, but the story too. As I said in the first volume of this blog, the story comes first.

I’d already worked out the basic premise of both the world and the story before setting out to draw the map, which informed a few key elements. There needed to be a main continent, with two large islands on the west and east coast of that continent. To the south, we see the top of another continent, which is as of yet, undeveloped. At first, I began dividing up the main continent into different nations. While this will be vital to the story, after a bit of research, I was reminded of a basic principle. The idea of borders as we know them are a fairly recent notion. It is geographical features and obstacles that would have formed the first, rudimentary national borders. It therefore become necessary to add a series of mountains along one border, which in itself then informed and enhanced the lore of the world I’ve been crafting.

Economics also have to be taken into consideration. The world I’m crafting is very much a fantasy world, and magic plays a part in everyday life, but it isn’t the answer to everything. The people living in this world still need to acquire food and materials, so the notion of trade comes into play. If I’ve got two continents, where is the best place along the coast to establish a port or two? How has the location of a settlement influenced its development over the decades and centuries? As an example, I have one settlement essentially right in the middle of a pass between mountains which border two countries. The settlement was set up as a fortress, originally, and has to rely on its friends to the east for supplies. The fortress has become a little less essential as a military post over time, allowing for a small city to develop, but nowhere near the level of those cities closer to the ports. All little details that should be considered when crafting a new world.

Time and space matter in storytelling. It’s still taking me a bit of research to nail this one down, because as I’ve said, this blog is an exploration of my journey. I’m not claiming to know everything. A map usually comes with a scale, to let you know just how great a distance a centimetre on the map represents. Ultimately, this informs just how long it takes a character to travel from one place to another. Of course, it depends on their mode of transport, and I have cheated just a little by creating a breed of horse that’s been trained and enhanced with spells for greater speed and durability. Still, the point stands. If you want a character to be in one place today and another tomorrow, you need to be sure of how long it’ll take them to get there. There’s no teleportation in this world, no great shortcuts.

Similar to this, being able to see one location in relation to another has helped me a great deal when it came to visualising the story. The bulk of the action in the beginning takes place in one location, but as my main character begins to travel, I found that having a map to look at really did inform certain decisions about the story. If your character needs to get somewhere but must avoid a certain place, the map shows you where they must go. It also allowed me to better visualise certain political alliances, based solely on geographical locations. It makes battles easier to see and informs the tactical decisions you make your characters take.

In summary, it really is true what they say. “Location, location, location.” This is the first time I’ve tried using a map to inform my story telling, and it’s been a revelation on many fronts. Even if it never ends up being seen by anyone else, I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone dabbling with the genre.

Happy Birthday Figment Wars!

A blog celebrating five years since the publication of ‘The Figment Wars: Through the Portals’!

Last year, on World Book Day, I found myself addressing an assembly hall full of Year 10 students. An assembly hall of Year 10 students who’d never heard of me or my book. I acknowledged this from the beginning, telling them I wish I could tell them that I’ve sold thousands of books and that those books are about to be made into a film, but I can’t. I’m no good at bluster at the best of times and I was raised not to lie (bang goes any hope of a career in politics). I told them the truth because I felt it important to make a fundamental point; you don’t get into writing with the sole purpose of becoming rich and famous, and anyone who does is usually bitterly disappointed.

 

You get into writing because you love it.

 

That is why, when I look back over the last five years, I don’t feel any kind of regret. I’d made many attempts over the years at writing something I thought I could really do something with, all to no avail. Then there came that trip into Bath on the Park n’ Ride bus with a good friend. That’s when the idea first came to me, and I worked hard to turn it into something. I tried various methods of publication, and when Austin Macauley came along with an offer, I said “Yes”. I don’t regret that decision, not for a moment.

 

The past five years have been eventful, to say the least. When I first started writing ‘Through the Portals’, I’d only just moved in with my partner. A huge new chapter in my life had only just started, and there I was possibly embarking on a whole new one already. Since then we’ve bought our first house, a move that unfortunately coincided with a breakdown of my mental well being. I was signed off work and ultimately left my job. It was during that time that I joined my local amateur dramatic society, Sodbury Players, and not only rediscovered my love of performing, but made some excellent new friends. It was mostly down to the confidence I’d found from joining Players that led me to getting the second Figment Wars novel published. A novel that had been sitting in my computer for quite some time. As that book was published I began pursuing agency work that allowed me to balance work with writing.

 

When I look back at that moment when I first held an actual, physical copy of my book, it’s difficult to recall precisely what I was thinking. I know that I didn’t automatically expect it to be a runaway success. That wasn’t why I’d decided to write it. I’d enjoyed writing the story and I wanted to share it. It was as simple as that then, and the only thing that’s really changed is the ways I go about sharing the story. The world doesn’t owe anyone success, and even if you don’t achieve it, the point is to try. I’m still learning about the world of promoting books and there’s still a great deal for me to learn. Rather than obsess over the goal, I’m enjoying the journey.

 

There have been a number of experiences over the last five years that I’d like to reflect on. Getting to hold a copy of my book was fantastic, of course, but attending a comic con event and selling copies of my book for the first time was a truly rewarding experience. I’ve been attending such events for many years, so to be on the other side of the table was somewhat surreal. Collaborating with Ello Dave Media to create a live action trailer for the first novel was also a surreal experience, seeing my characters come to life, played by tremendously talented people that I’m fortunate to count among my friends. Getting honest feedback from friends and family about the story has also been something I cherish. Not only am I not obsessing over sales, I’m also not here to have smoke blown up my backside. I appreciate every thought and observation put my way.

 

It’s hard to tell what the next five days will bring, let alone the next five years. I’ve been hard at work on the next Figment Wars novel. I’ll give out no further details on that just yet, only to say that I’m hopeful about getting things moving fairly soon. Whatever happens over the next few years, I plan to do my best to bring my stories to the relevant audience as long as it is within my means to do so. As I said, I’m still learning a great deal about what it takes to get a book noticed. One thing I do know is that it isn’t easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile to try.

 

I’d like to end by thanking everyone that’s offered their support over the last five years and indeed, before publication itself. The team at Austin Macauley have always been supportive and without you all I would not have had these experiences. To all my family and friends, you give me the confidence to be myself at all times, even when being myself involves being a little strange.

When Inspiration Hits

Thoughts on the definition of ‘inspiration’.

“Inspiration”.

Defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the process of being filled with a feeling or with the urge to do something’, ‘a person or thing that inspires’ or finally, ‘a sudden clever idea’.

Let’s have a look at these three a little more closely, shall we? I was only going to do the first, but since you’ve been kind enough to read this blog thus far I might as well make it worth your while.

 

Definition 1 -‘the process of being filled with a feeling or with the urge to do something’.

We’ve all felt this at some point, writers and non-writers alike. Most of the time we wouldn’t even say we’d felt inspired to do something, we might even pass it off as an impulse. I do believe there’s a major distinction though. An impulse is but a flash, a momentary urge and is more often attributed to the doing of things we really shouldn’t. Inspiration can strike in the most fleeting of moments, but inspiration in the higher sense should lead us to work on something more long term.

 

Inspiration is not often linked with convenience. It strikes, sometimes seemingly randomly, and often at the most inconvenient moments. Just as you’re about to go to sleep is a common time, hence the notepad that many writers will keep beside their bed. Indeed, the notepad is the true best friend of many writers, always at hand to make note of an idea. Just a few months ago I was struck while doing the washing up, fortunately nothing was broken during the ‘Eureka’ moment.

 

This first definition clarifies that inspiration is a feeling, or an urge. What then, does inspiration feel like? For me, it is an unbeatable rush. When an idea comes to you, a truly inspiring thought, it is better than any artificial high in my opinion. In particular when it solves a problem you’ve been having with a point of plot or character. It’s an elation coupled with a tremendous rush. It’s not a high we can command or truly summon, but when it does hit, it can lift you through the stratosphere.

 

Definition 2 – ‘a person or thing that inspires’

We all have our heroes, literary or otherwise. They say you should never meet them but I say that depends entirely on the identity and character of your hero. I’ve met a number of people who I can honestly say have inspired me in one way or another and to varying degrees. Famous, well known people who probably hear that they’ve inspired someone three or four times a week. I know I cannot speak for all, but in my experience, when I have conveyed (or attempted to through a tangled tongue) to someone how much they’ve inspired me, they’ve always been happy to hear it. No artist stands alone and we have all been influenced by others. To my mind, true artists want to inspire others, and appearing grateful when they hear they’ve done so is never a mere formality.

 

Inspiration can also come from a source much closer to home. The people we meet on our doorsteps can inspire us just as much as our heroes from their pedestals. My family have always been a great source of encouragement and support to me, as indeed has my partner of nearly eight years. When it comes to pushing myself in new creative directions, I hold my friends from Sodbury Players personally responsible. I wouldn’t have thought of adapting parts of my book into a live action book trailer were it not for the group’s chairman, Rob. Every single member of the adult group, and indeed the youth group, has inspired me over the last few years to push myself both as a performer and a writer. I shall always be grateful to this talented, loving, mad bunch.

 

As far as “a thing” that inspires, this is deeply personal to each person. It could be a story, a painting, a view, a place, a rock. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. It may very well be an actual boat that sparks an idea. I’ve found a great deal of inspiration in certain places, not necessarily far-flung locations, quite local in fact. Mundane and ordinary to some, yet each place has its own striking beauty to the right person. Coastlines have long been a particular favourite of mine, yet still inspiration strikes in the oddest places. I was recently walking through a local graveyard on my way home, late in the evening. As a light struck a particular grave, I was struck with an idea for a chapter in a story that I’ve been planning for some time. Within minutes, this one image had cascaded into including characters, moods and an incident. None of which I can go into, you understand. This is a future project, so you’ll just have to be patient.

 

Definition 3 -‘a sudden clever idea’

Is every idea that comes to us during that rush of inspiration going to change the world? No, sadly not. It’s said there is only seven basic stories, though it may be five depending on who you ask. Does this stop us from striving to create? Certainly not. Even if an idea that feels a real stunner late at night turns out to be a dud in the cold light of day, it takes nothing away from that moment of euphoria when it came to you. Every idea deserves to be explored, even if it’s only one in a hundred that ends up taking you to that next level. Inspiration can lead to success or failure, both paths involve plenty of blood, sweat and tears.

 

It is always worth the risk.

Should We Write Everyday?

A little blog for writers who worry they don’t write enough.

Every author feels it. That sense of utter shame when you haven’t worked on your current writing project for almost an entire day. That panic that it’s never going to get done. Fear of losing the flow. The dread of facing the blank page having been distracted for so long.

 

Should we be writing every day?

 

Yes, no and maybe.

 

Of course it’s important to keep up with your current project, because we all know an idea for a new one is going to pop up anytime soon. I’d like to say I’ve never succumbed to the temptation to place one project on the back burner in favour of starting a new one, but it would be a big bare-faced lie. Sometimes, however, you need that avalanche of new and exciting ideas to force you to prioritise. Take yourself to the breaking point that is the agony of choice, forcing yourself to pick a project and give it your all.

 

I’m also a big believer in the concept of work-life balance. Whether you’re a professional writer or not, let’s consider writing to be ‘work’ for the moment. Giving yourself over to work might yield fantastic results in the short term, but you know what they say about the candle that burns twice as bright. First and foremost you owe it to yourself to allow some downtime, and I do mean proper downtime. Take a day away from writing to relax. Go somewhere that inspires you. Make time for the people you’re closest to. These are the things that fuel our writing endeavours, not hinder them.

 

In a similar vein, never beat yourself up over not having written today. You are allowed to take time out. Stress can affect anyone and everyone, it’s not picky. If you write professionally and work to a series of deadlines, you still owe it to yourself to take regular breaks. If you write as a hobby, you shouldn’t let something that is supposed to relax you become stressful to the point that you no longer enjoy it.

 

Finding the time to write can be tricky, especially for those who write around full time jobs. I haven’t written a blog entry this past month because I’ve seen a marked increase in my work as a supporting artist. I’m certainly not complaining, it’s been a great summer filming on various professional projects. I’ve had a few days of supply work in a few new nurseries. I also spent a week in Cornwall with my partner and spent some time with friends and family. I have, on occasion, made time to work on the third instalment of the Figment Wars series. All in all, a nicely balanced summer.

 

That’s what it’s all about, really. Balance.