I don’t even know what to call this

Okay so, here’s a post that is not friends-locked.

 

This has been a bad year. And a good one. It has been the year I finally accepted I have a problem with depression (though if anyone reads Beastkeeper and doesn’t pick that up I will rap your knuckles with the Wooden Ruler of Major Side-Eye.)

 

So, things that were done while in the grip of some of the worst lowest periods I have ever had (um…can’t say, but I know that I professionally did some stuff that when I look at now in the cold hard light of medication I’m like wtf why what were you on?) are things I have to deal with now. Despite meds, I’m writing again (the 100 words Not Your Nano thing). For a while, I was pretty convinced I would not be able to write again –  and I WAS OKAY with that, because it was better than writing and wanting to kill myself every day. The Boy even told me he was terrified that he would come home to me dead. So it wasn’t  just me making up drama. I was not well.

 

I’m still not. I have terrible social anxiety that can lead to sleepless nights of borderline panic attacks because I said something stupid. It is ridiculous, I know, but there it is. I’m trying to fix it, but what people see in real life, or online, is not me-me. The real me is shaking and wanting to physically hurt myself over saying “wow, that’s way too many!” to someone who says they have 3 kids when a) I have 2 b) i don’t care how many kids you have if you’re happy so c) WHY did I even say that? (see it’s still bugging me).

 

I still hate my body, I still apologise for not being immediately perfect at everything, I still feel like a failure, but believe it or not, I’m doing better.

 

So, yeah, the point of this: 2015 is almost here, and I’m going to get this social thing under control. I’m going to learn to act like a normal human being and not be a complete tit all the time.

 

And hopefully write some more  books.

Not Your Nano day 18 – Worldbuilding

Today’s post is short. I’ve written a fair bit about worldbuilding (how I do it, anyway) in the past and I think there are loads of brilliant writers who talk about their hows and whys far more eloquently than I do.

If you have a favourite author whose worldbuilding you love, I pretty much guarantee someone has asked them about it, and they’ve either written posts or answered interview questions. Everyone approaches worldbuilding differently – some focus on things I feel are inconsequential, and I focus on other stuff that those writers think are stupid and pointless. *shrug* Your world, you know what detail your story needs.

My only suggestion is when keeping massive files on worldbuilding notes (especially across a series or multiple series) is to find a solution to keeping all your notes cross-referenced and linked. I use Zim Wiki, because I like the hyperlinked wikipedia style entries, but that’s my personal taste.

If you have some suggestions for fellow writers, lets hear them.

(and hey, 100 words. Don’t forget to do them.)

Not Your Nano day 17 – Enemies

Or, if not enemies, at least the opposing force to your protagonist.

 

I’m not going to say that every book needs an antagonist though I think in this case it’s a pretty sure bet that if you would like a focus for your narrative and something that forces your character to change and grow, then an antagonist is probably a good idea. As in, yeah, you need an antagonist.

An antagonist does not have to be A Big Bad Dark Lord, or a Fiery Eye with masses of orc troops. Antagonists don’t even have to be people-shaped. They can be external (the weather, a whale, society values, uh…bands of killer rats.), and internal. (Dark Passengers, guilt, I have no idea but I’m sure you can think of something.)

It’s a lot easier to structure your story (even if it’s loosely) if you know what the opposing force is to your character. Unfortunately, I have a habit of making the opposing force to my character, my character, which means I write a lot of books no-one wants to buy. If you have an antagonist with their own goals, flaws, and desires – if you build them as well as you build your Main Character, you’re going to have the seeds of something interesting.

Sure, the Evil Dark Lord Who is Evil Because Evil is a trope that appears again and again, and I’m not saying it can’t work, but even J K Rowling gave as some backstory for Voldy, and made him slightly less cartoonish evil (slightly) as the series progressed. And, for me, the best character in that whole series was Snape anyway, because he was such a flawed and conflicted character.

Snape, of course, in his own way served as a kind of red-herring antagonist for much of the series, so we’ll give him that.

So today I am going to sit down, and I am going to really think about the antagonist in this book (because guess what! Once again, my protag is my antag, ffs, Cat,get it right.)

 

If that is something that can help you figure out where you’re going, then use it.

 

And now SBAs open, ready, begin.

 

 

Not Your Nano day 16 – psh endings who needs them?

Let me tell you a little secret about the way I write. Very often, I write a huge chunk of book, feel defeated, and slap on a crappy ending and call it done-for-now. It gets me over that I’ll never finish this shite waaaah feeling.

When the Sea is Rising Red began life as a little slip of a vignette – an encounter in the rain. I left it for ages before I wrote an actual novel with an actual (terrible) ending. (Which my editor had me cut completely (the final third of the book, basically) and rewrite until it was a proper ending.) With House of Sand and Secrets, I gave up half way through the book and abandoned it with a perfunctory few notes, and only came back to it a few years later. Sometimes, endings need time to compost in that squidgy brain matter, the ideas need to develop, dreamwise and untempered by rationality and deadlines.

(Sometimes, deadlines make composting happen faster, let us not pretend :P)

Turns out, I’m not the only one who works this way, as a random sampling of some of my fellow writers shows. Quite a few in my writers’ group mentioned using placeholder endings and notes to call it done, just to get to the point where they could start working on making it into a real novel.

What I’m saying is, if what you need to do is write a fake-out ending just so you can call the novel done and get into the real work of revising and rewriting, that’s perfectly okay. Some of us have the ending completely in mind and know exactly how it will work, and some of us find our ending by trial and error. And trial and error and trial error.

Never let anyone tell you a “real writer” has to work in a certain way. A real writer puts words down, and fixes them (some more so than others). That’s it. There’s not even a correct way to do that – pen and paper, typewriter, word processor, text document, speech to text software, dictating to your secretary….just get them down.

100 words, my kittens of despair. You can do that.

Not Your Nano day 15 – HALFWAY!

We’re half way (more or less) through the month of taking it slow. How are your tomatoes doing? Are you still adding words to your outline, or your story, or revision (whatever it is you’re working on)? 100 words may not seem like a lot, but they’re 100 more than you had yesterday, and 100 more than the day before.

Keep adding line by line, and your novel will grow. And for many novels there comes a point of mass growth, where (and if you grow plants, you may have noticed this), the seedling seems to creep along forever at the same size, and then whoooosh it grows inches overnight. Books can be like that too, where it seems no matter how much you write you’re still only 1/4 of the way through, and then, in a sudden rush, you’re hurtling to the end.

You don’t reach that final rush if you stop writing though.

And now, because of yesterday’s mountain adventure, I need to catch up on my 100 words twice over. Skipping a day is not the end of the world, but stopping because of that skipped day is often the end of a story. Unwatered, neglected, that seedling withers up. (You can sometimes revive them, but it takes some careful care, so why stop the momentum if you don’t have to?)

See you at the end of 100 words.

And then everyone gets tea and cake for half-time.

 

 

 

 

 

Not Your Nano day 14 – wrong turns and dead ends

Well, if you’ve been thinking, that Cat, she’s so lazy, almost 4 pm and she still hasn’t posted, you’d be mostly right.

I did not have the energy or the brain for a post today. See, this morning I left my house bright and early with The Boy, The Spawn, and the Hounds. We were meant to do a quick trip up the one peak, then head down for ice cream cones on the way home. So, part one happened, after which The Boy said, “I brought torches so we can look at the caves.”

We were still fairly unwinded (if wind-tousled) and the morning was young.

mountaindoor

yeah…

anyway, we got home six hours later, I still had to go do some grocery shopping, came back, and kinda passed out.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with writing…well, it’s right there, if you’re like me and don’t outline, and only go off with a rough map in hand. Sometimes…you get side-tracked. Sometimes you take wrong turns, and the story goes happily galloping off on pathways that you”l have to back track to get your novel on the right route again. That’s not the end of the world, though it sure bloody feels like it when you find yourself cutting huge swathes of text and weeping bitterly into your salt-flavoured coffee.

So why do it- well, sometimes you come back to your story with new ideas that you’d never have thought of if you didn’t take those paths, meet characters who will come in handy later, learn new and surprising things about your world that will inform your story in ways you didn’t expect.

And sometimes, you just get to stand on top of a mountain and look at the flowers.

flowers

 

Not Your Nano day 13 – Soundtracking and Playlists

Here’s a novel way to put together a novel. (sorrynotsorry ) It’s not one I’ve done myself (though I have written books that seem to go hand in hand with a soundtrack) but I know enough writers who do this that I’m going to include it because hey, if it sparks, it sparks.

I spoke to contemporary YA author Hannah Moskowitz to ask her a little about the whys of working by mapping out her story with a playlist first, and this was her reply:

for me it helps me figure out the pacing of the story. seeing where there are a bunch of slow songs in a row makes me realize okay, something probably needs to happen in this space, or seeing that i have a bunch of songs focused on one or two characters in a row makes me realize i’m probably neglecting some of the other characters in that section. it’s just a good way to see–hear?–how the story progression works on a mechanical level

Gottta say, I found the idea of pacing a story via speed of the songs really an interesting insight – something I’d never thought of.

Mixtape-3

Do you have ways of mapping out your story that might be considered unusual? Tell me about them – I find the different processes we have a fascinating look into the artistic mind.

 

And don’t forget your 100 words even though it’sa Saturday and you probably just wanna lie around playing Skyrim (oh wait, that’s me :P)

 

Not Your Nano day 12 – Stuck? I am.

Yesterday actually turned into a better day than I expected. After my initial dismal attempt at words, I finally finished the first draft of my short story that I have been working on for…forever. or like a few months. Same thing.

So now it’s back to work on my novel while I wait for some uh…constructive criticism from my trusted beta readers. Who are smart, talented people, not afraid to point out where I’m going wrong. While I have notes to follow for the novel, I’m feeling kinda stuck right now, my head is all….gah…wtf…i hate this book…*cries*

Time for some intervention. Usually when I’m stuck like this, it’s a sign I need to work stuff out before I continue writing. Now, for me (and here I open myself up to a flood of voices going NO YOU ARE WRONG WRONG WRONG, note I said, for *me*) the most important thing to make story work is character.

(NO, you cry, IT IS PLOT, YOU IGNORAMUS)

Well yes, but for me, character *is* plot. Plot is what happens in the story, right? It is the progression from A to B to X, and that happens because of character. Character drives plot. (welp, in my stories, anyway)

So here I am, stuck as a stuck thing that is stuck in sticky stuff, and it’s because I need to know my character better. Once I do, the steps she will take will dictate plot. Time for my notebook, my pens, and my brain to sit alone for a bit. I start with the stuff I know.

pic1

And I take it from there, a word at a time.

The biggest question I can ask myself is “What does she want most?” I get a couple of answers for that because sometimes the first, most obvious one is just a cover for desires that lie deeper. I also look at how the other desires link together (and in this case, they all do, sometimes a few are outliers.)

Once I know what my character wants, I can throw obstacles in her way – how does she go about trying to get what she wants? What happens to throw her off? When she gets what she wants, what has it cost her, and was it worth it?

ipp

Working one step at a time, I can take all these minor desires, and build them up to a reveal of the ultimate desire, and the price she will pay for it.

But, that’s a long process. Right now, with my rough map in hand, I can concentrate on the first of these desires:   give her things, and take them away; building her up as a character who moves through the world, and the world is story.

If you’re also stuck, I hope that helps a little.

Not Your Nano day 11 – breaking it all down

Today I am overwhelmed. I’ve started everything late, I had to pay a library fine so high the Librarian even remarked that it was my highest fine ever (R24, guys, I swear my brain has shut down for summer.) My house is a mess, my children are reading instead of doing their actual homework (this…is problematic, but not that problematic. I’d rather Lord of the Rings than meth, yanno.) The laundry is refusing to hang itself, dishes are breeding in murky dishwater, I’m scared of what might be living in my fridge, and I have to write this blog and sound like…I dunno, someone with a brain cell, and then write my words and today just feels like The Suck.

Enter the list

(also enter my 15 minute timer and my Square Brackets, but that will come later.)

Some days I just need to break my life down into tiny steps that I can mark off and feel the faint buzz of accomplishment. And by sometimes I mean almost all the time. There’s something about being able to tick stuff off (even when that stuff is “pick up dog poo” or “shower.” (Ah! The glamorous life of the writer!)) that allows me to feel a tiny bit in control.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, maybe a list will come in handy – just remember to keep the tasks small (“sweep lounge” rather than “clean house”) and use your timer to give you an ending so it feels like a small manageable chunk. Take things one at a time. And remember the same holds true for the making of stories.

There’s a little book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird which also talks about this idea of breaking things into small pieces, and taking it step by step. You write a novel word by word, just need to concentrate on one line at a time.

birdbybird

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

2014: A Retrospective

I have a tendency to be quite a negative person – always focusing on the crappy stuff instead of the good, so by the time the end of the year rolls around I’m like waaaah what was the point of that, why do i exist, lalalalala etc.

 

So instead, I will look at the cool things that happened this year.

 

1: We moved into our own house, not a rental.

2: I got to rehome six battery hens and now I eat actual free range eggs every day. YAY HAPPY CHOOKS

3: I started learning archery, French, and aikido, all of which I am terrible at, but have immense fun doing anyway.

4: The Boy and I saw Tori Amos live. (let me repeat that. TORI. AMOS. LIVE. NNNGHH. YES.)

5: I spent time with friends and family who are important to me.

6: Folded Wherry brought out the paperback version of House of Sand and Secrets.

7: I had cool and unexpected phonecalls with publishing people.

8: Some short stories of mine were published in awesome mags: Waking, and The Girls Who Go Below.

9: I became a squeaky mom to three adorable guinea pigs.

10: *Finally* finished some books that were languishing on my hard drive, and started some new projects.

11: READ ALL THE THINGS.

 

A good year, yes. :D