Pursuing the dream of writing

When I first set up this blog, its purpose was to serve as a platform on which I could share my stories. It could be a chapter of a book I was writing, a few scenes of an idea I liked – essentially anything that I was working on. I’ve always been terrible at sharing my creative writing work, and still am to this day, so ‘alwayslovetowrite’ became an exercise in letting go of my fear and hitting that upload button. Somehow, it was far easier to do – I could publish that piece online and then shut down my computer. Whilst I wanted people to like it, I wasn’t concerned by how many, or how few, actually read it or commented.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in primary school. I remember writing terrible plays, writing part-biography part-fiction stories about my life, and even once trying to write songs. One piece of advice I’ve heard countless times from authors is that you don’t need to be published to be a writer – the only way to become a writer is to write. In that way, I suppose I have always been a writer, but my dream has always to be a published one.

Every now and then I get the urge to write again – normally up to and surrounding November due to NaNoWriMo (if you don’t know about NaNo, check out my 2017 blog about it here). No surprise, last month I had a huge resurgence of energy and motivation to get back to writing, and ended up returning to the book I wrote over a year ago now. I loved the story idea and the various characters, but it definitely felt unpolished – even after I went through and edited it last year.

Before returning to it this time, however, I picked up On Writing by Stephen King. If anyone reading wants to be better at writing or is just interested in Stephen King and his writing history and process, I would highly recommend picking this one up. It starts with his ‘CV’, as he calls it – a section filled with episodes spanning his whole life that has made him the bestselling author he is today. Following this are his pieces of wisdom and advice on what is in his writing ‘toolbox’, and how to apply the various tools into creating a brilliant piece of written work. This is a book I’m sure I’ll go back to read again, if only for King’s engaging and entertaining writing style. It feels like you’re in an elusive writing masterclass with this author baring all of his writing secrets, and there are so many of his tips that I am now constantly using.

As I now work in publishing, there is so much I know about and yet still so much that I have no clue when it comes to getting published. Following successful authors on Twitter and Instagram is similarly helpful and not helpful at all, but it all helps to build a picture in my mind of what to aim for.

I won’t get published this year – most likely not even next year, or the year after that. But whilst I still love writing, and am proud of what I create (after many, many edits), I’m determined to keep trying. Who knows, maybe by the time I’m in my forties I’ll have a book that has my name on the cover which I can find in a bookshop. Maybe even a book that people have read and a few of those have liked. That’s the dream I’m pursuing.

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Potty for Podcasts

Well, it’s been a while – two months, in fact, since I last wrote on this blog. I have a million excuses, ranging from inspiration to work to health, but excuses are boring, so let’s just get on with it.

As we all know by now, I want to be a writer. No, scratch that, if there’s one thing everyone says is that you have to stop saying ‘I want to be a writer’. So let’s rephrase: I want to be an author. More specifically, an author who is traditionally published and has a physical book out that generates some money. At this stage in my life, I’m not worried about being a full-time author – I very much adore my current job, and if I did somehow miraculously become published, I would want to keep my current job and write on the side.

There’s just one small problem with my pipe dream, and that is that I don’t give it enough attention. Sure, there are moments when I do so much writing I end the day feeling smug and accomplished (mainly during November when I participate in NaNoWriMo). But for most of the year, especially since starting my new job, I hardly ever write. It’s not that there aren’t any chances to write, but I seem to pick other things like reading, watching movies with my friends, going out socialising, and just plain ol’ relaxing, especially in the hot weather England has been having recently.

Once you get out of the practice of writing everyday, it’s difficult – or at least, it is for me – to get back into the habit. I love writing, I really do, but it’s got to the point where I just don’t prioritise it anymore.

Enter: podcasts.

The only podcast I listen to regularly is My Dad Wrote a Porno, and incredibly funny podcast that I’m sure many of you are aware of. My only issue is that, like with audiobooks, I don’t know when to actually listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I’m trying to get into running (if the crazy hot weather will actually let up for a moment so I don’t die trying), and I’ve found that listening to podcasts and audiobooks on a run works perfectly for me. I can’t listen on my commute (damn you noisy tubes), and I can’t listen as I work as I can’t concentrate on writing and listening to people speaking at the same time. This is why I haven’t been very good at keeping up with the podcast scene, and why I’m so late at discovering podcasts about writing.

Honestly, after listening to a couple of episodes from different podcasts all about writing, I felt the urge to grab up a pen and notepad or whip out my laptop to get back to writing. Whether it’s people talking about books, interviewing authors, discussing techniques – all of it I adore. In particular, I listened to The Bestseller ExperimentThe Riff Raff Podcast and The Honest Authors’ show. Listening to discussions on everything from the industry and what readers are looking for to general writer worries and efforts to get published is just so motivating for me. Listening to authors talk about how they struggle to fit writing in everyday, or listening to wannabe authors talk about juggling work and writing is reassuring and, strangely, uplifting. Here are other people going through the same thing I am, all of us with the same goals and dreams in mind, all navigating the world of writing and publishing – most of the time without really knowing what we’re doing.

I’d highly recommend looking into a podcast for whatever you’re interested in – be it book reviews and writing like I am, or not. Little episodes of thoughts and ideas from other people, all at your fingertips to discover whenever works best for you. When I listen to people discussing writing advice and thoughts on how to improve feels like being in a brainstorm session, as if I’m included in the conversation. Helpful, entertaining, and motivating, I’m a new podcast fan.

Let me know if you’ve listened to any podcasts recently that you think are fantastic, whether they’re about writing or otherwise. For me, podcasts create a chance to look at the world from a fresh perspective and listen to the thoughts of someone else, instead of having mine clambering around inside my head looking for attention. A brilliant medium, one that from here on out I’ll be sure to recommend.

Commenting on Creativity

I originally started this blog because I wanted to share my creative writing with the world. I deleted most of the first posts I made, as looking back the writing I did then seemed terrible. I’m sure if I look at the writing I did a couple of years ago I’d think it awful, but that’s the point of learning and growing – hopefully, you’ll always get better.

It’s never been a secret that one day, somehow, my dream is to be an author. Or, more specifically, a published author who can earn a steady income from books written alone. I love my current job, and if I could quit tomorrow to just write books I wouldn’t – I’d rather stay in the job I have now and write books for fun. But this isn’t what I want to talk about today. No, right now I want to write about commenting on creativity, and how that can help and hinder someone.

I was talking with my flatmate the other day about creative writing, as I sign up to so many free courses to get hints and tips for writing well. There are so many documents on my computer of half-finished stories, bullet points of ideas, and even a couple of ‘finished’ books. I have so many notebooks (which I hoard to an excessive extent) with hastily scribbled musings and random scenes, as well as several jottings on the notes app on my phone. When I was in university, it made sense to me to pick a creative writing module in my second year – it was, after all, what I dreamed of doing one day and happened to be doing most days anyway.

It’s safe to say now that this isn’t exactly a happy story.

That creative writing class was one of the worst classes I ever took at university, partly due to the terrible teaching and partly due to the soul-crushing, heart-wrenching trauma of losing faith in your dream and what you love. Yes, it sounds melodramatic, but creative writing is something I’ve done all my life – from terribly written plays when I was tiny that ripped off Scooby-Doo, to the very short book I wrote when I was 16 and foolishly thought that it was good enough to be published – and to go to a class all bright-eyed and hopeful only to come out with my work torn apart with vicious comments circling around in my mind, I thought that was the end for me.

There is a difference between constructive criticism and just criticism. Telling someone ‘your characters are a bit weak, you should try building up their backstory more to reflect a more complex character as a whole’ is very different to saying ‘your characters are awful’. And that’s what that class was for me.

Each week someone would have to bring in their response to a task – there was writing a short story based around a recent news piece, or writing a story that happened over the course of an hour. We spent the class focussing on that person’s work, and giving feedback on how we found it. I ended up with the task to rewrite something that happened to you from someone else’s perspective, something that I spent a long long time on just because I was so excited about it.

I like to think I’m not completely naive. I’m not very good at taking harsh criticism as it is, and very much like the sandwich tactic where you give a bad point in between two nicer comments. Still, I went into that class and braced myself, repeating a mantra that it was all good constructive criticism. And then the teacher opened up the conversation with “So who knows who Jonathan (my main character in the story) is? No one?” She turned to me and immediately said, “And that’s why your story isn’t any good. Because we don’t know who the main character is.”

It felt very much like a slap in the face, especially as I tried to say that I had tried to gradually introduce him in a way through first person narration that didn’t feel like a paragraph of him looking in the mirror and describing himself and his life story. Still, the teacher insisted, it was very bard form that you didn’t discover his name until the third paragraph, and the fact that you don’t get his full background in a 1,000 word piece just isn’t good enough.

And so it began. On and on she went, with some of the class chipping in with “your style just doesn’t work”, “your language choice is poor”, “I just didn’t like it at all, really”. I remember being given back 15 copies of my work, with scribbles all over it. There were some kinder ones, with comments every now and then saying “I love this bit!”, but those weren’t the ones I thought about afterwards.

So after that class, I ended up keeping my head down for the rest of the module. Frankly I felt useless, and didn’t really care to continue it. I don’t like sharing my writing even on a good day, and after that I’m loathe to share even a paragraph of something I’ve written to friends who I know wouldn’t even dream of saying anything in a nasty way.

Commenting on someone’s creativity can change the way they are creative altogether. I’m very much of the belief that a comment, remark, or critique made in a way that’s meant to be positive, or rather something said by someone who means well, is always good. When 16-year-old me had an email back from an agent saying my story needed more developing, as the main character was said to be one age but came across as another, I was at first mortified. Then, after ten minutes of thinking my life was over and plenty of chocolate, I realised that an agent had taken the time to look at my work and give me some feedback. Good feedback, at that. Looking at that terrible book now (a moment of silence for ‘Fizzy’, who will never see the light of day again), the agent was exactly right. The main character does come across as a different age, but they didn’t write back to me saying ‘This is crap, burn it, your character is terrible’. They gave me constructive criticism – which really, is a critique with guidance. Yes, the character was terrible, but I was told why and most importantly how to make it better.

Creative work is a tricky beast at best, and critiquing creative work is even worse. You know, as well as everyone else does, how much heart and soul and effort you pour into creative work. I’m sure everyone in that class felt as precious about their work as I did about mine. But it’s difficult to comment on someone else’s creation in a way that is helpful without being unkind, which is something that I think my old teacher needed to be taught. She would quite happily tear work to shreds, but offer no form of guidance for how it could be better. On another person’s work she’d just occasionally write ‘no’ next to certain paragraphs, which was as illuminating as being stuck in a cardboard box in the dark.

So the next time you comment on someone’s creativity – be it someone’s song, a rhyme they made up, a story they scribbled on a napkin – take a moment to form whatever thoughts you have in something that is helpful. You can be positive and critique someone at the same time. Even if what that person has done is a flaming pile of cow dung, you can still say something nice before you deal that blow – like the fact that the flaming pile of cow dung is a really good first step, there’s just a few changes you’d make….

Always telling stories

I have always loved telling stories. From telling anecdotes of terrible customers at work to writing out fantastical ideas that I always dream of doing something with one day to share them with the world. There’s just something so incredible of creating a world in your head, of thinking up characters and descriptions that exist only in your imagination. There’s something special about that infinite space, and then looking at either a blank notebook or a blank word document with the cursor blinking, full of possibilities. Seeing the physical evidence of someone’s creativity is always astounding, but with books it’s even more so as the only materials the writer used were a combination of 26 letters. It’s probably why I love reading fantasy, just to see how other writer’s minds work and the things that they can imagine and create, see where they’ve been inspired and how they, in turn, can inspire me.

I’ve known that I want to one day write books for a very, very long time. In past posts I’ve gone into detail about some of my ‘early’ work, which included a very short play which was essentially Scooby Doo with a retriever (there was a graveyard, a vampire, and a witch), along with two pieces of fiction, a duology if you will, that was inspired by my seven-year-old-self’s crush who ended up moving to another country, which is what the second book deals with. Such heartbreak at such a young age, but if I remember correctly the only reason I liked him was because he was a fast runner, which probably isn’t the best thing to start a relationship for.

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So clearly I had a love for stories and imaginations as a child, but when thinking back I remember all the ways I loved stories. It seems child-me didn’t quite understand the very important difference between telling something as a story and telling a story as if it were a truth. AKA child-me lied about a lot of things, but didn’t think of them as lies, more as ‘stories’.

When I think back, a few of these little ‘stories’ come to mind, all that occurred in primary school up to the age of about nine or ten. There are minor ones, such as telling a girl that I had seen a unicorn or a friend that I had been taken from a tribe of magical warriors (though that one I blame on my brother, who I distinctly remember telling me that I was adopted in probably the most imaginative tale ever, which included our parents travelling to a tribe in the wilderness and doing some ritual in order to get me). But the one that spiralled entirely out of control, and which still makes me smile to this day, was the story that my cat had had kittens.

My cat, of course, hadn’t had kittens. Bundle was, in fact, neutered, and so would never have kittens ever, but little me (I’m pretty sure I was in Reception or Year One, so maybe five or six years old) really liked the idea of my cat having kittens. So much so, that I imagined how great it would be if Bundle had actually had kittens. All I can remember is telling a few of my friends and perhaps even my teacher, the ever-wonderful Mrs Hill – she was involved in another one of my story-related obsessions, in which I took home a lot of books from the school library, but didn’t want to give them back, and so soon collected a box-full of books, which my Mum discovered, but luckily Mrs Hill didn’t tell me off. Apparently stealing is not ok, but when it could demonstrate a child’s love of reading there isn’t much of a punishment.

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Back to the cat. So all I remember is telling a few people that my cat had had kittens, the dream of any five-maybe-six year old girl. After that I don’t remember much at all, apart from what I’ve since been told by my Mum and brother. Apparently the news of kittens spread through the primary school like wildfire, a primary school that my older brother still attended at this time, possibly in his final year there before secondary school. He found out about our cat supposedly having kittens when one of his friends asked if the kittens were for sale. Next thing I know, my Mum is telling me that it’s wrong to lie after people kept enquiring after our kittens. I’m pretty sure little-me was as confused as everyone else – I mean, after all, it had been a story, and was it really my fault that other people couldn’t recognise such excellent creativity and imagination?

It’s safe to say that the story-telling, or ‘lying’ as others called it, died down after that, and by the time I reached secondary school I understood the importance of clarifying to the mere mortals when I was telling a story.

My only regret? That I threw away the original manuscripts for those two books I wrote about my heartbreak over this boy. Man, would I love to be able to read them now. That would be some serious entertainment right there – though I seem to remember in the second one that he moved to Australia and was bitten by a black widow spider, because apparently little-me was a spiteful so-and-so.

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

Last year I did something crazy, and that was signing up to NaNoWriMo saying that I was going to write a whole novel in a month. For those new to the concept, National Novel Writing Month has been running for several years now, pushed on by its loyal and growing community of crazy wannabe writers who attempt this ridiculous, but wonderful, challenge. If you’re interested in my experience, check out my blog post on it.

What I loved about NaNo was the encouragement to just sit down and make time to write every single day. The focus was not on writing a masterpiece, it was on writing those one thousand, six hundred and something words a day. It wasn’t about going back over what you’d written previously and editing it until it was somewhat satisfactory. It was about reaching that target, whether you had planned out a story from start to end or you were just making it up as you went along (I was the latter half). Instead of spending ages staring at one sentence because it didn’t feel quite right, or looking up synonyms for words, or scrolling through baby name websites for that perfect name (all of which I frequently do), I simply sat down and wrote. Who cares if my sentence uses the same word twice or the language is a bit simplistic or if I call my main character John Smith? Creating a word of genius wasn’t the point of NaNo, and I loved that more than anything. It takes the pressure off of you, and brings you back to the core reason for doing this in the first place – the sheer love of writing and storytelling.

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As soon as November ended last year, I said I couldn’t wait until next year. That feeling hasn’t changed – I am desperate to get back to that mindset of just writing whenever I can, and making the time to do it. Yet last year I made the joke that, despite having several essays, I was going to take on the challenge. It seems that this year, my final year of university, the deadlines I have for the next month, let alone the next year, are too many to manage alongside NaNo.

It is so with a very heavy heart, I’m announcing that I will not be participating in NaNo 2017. Writing 50,000 words for fun is just not going to be possible alongside dissertation reading/planning/writing, midterm assignments, reading for modules – you get the idea. Although it would be very easy for everyone to come up with an excuse for why they don’t have the time to write a novel in a month (I’d be concerned if you thought you had lots of time to get that done with no issues), for me it’s the added stress and pressure from doing well in my final year of university. I know that if I decide to take on NaNo, it will become something that it isn’t supposed to be – a source of stress, anxiety, and just plain not fun. And I don’t want writing to become that. I need writing as my outlet (Exhibit A: what you’re reading now. Exhibit B: the fact I have two blogs. TWO. As if managing one wasn’t enough).

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However, it isn’t all bad news. Instead of completely abandoning all hope of NaNo, I’ve decided to revisit what I wrote last year – which I still quite like, and have since had many ideas on how to extend and improve it, including a follow up novel – I’m ambitious (read: hopeful). Instead of writing a completely new novel, I’m going to go back to last year’s attempt and try to rework it. This includes changing the voice of the book, which was originally written in first person and, because I’ve had an idea, I’m going to change it to third person. I’m also going to change certain characters, certain scenes that I rushed through to reach the word count, and basically do everything that NaNo doesn’t. I’m going to edit, polish, tidy up all those terrible sentences, and hopefully create something I’m truly proud of.

NaNo 2016 forced me into writing a novel idea that I loved within a month. This year, I’m going to take that novel and make it shine. Or, at least, I’m going to try. Uni might be a hell of a lot more work this year, but it isn’t going to stop me from writing. Or, well, editing, I suppose.

Internship at Legend Press

In the past year or so, I’ve come to the realisation that the only kind of journalism I’m interested in are book and music reviews – which you can’t really make a career out of straight away and live off. They’re both competitive, and I probably wouldn’t be able to focus solely on them until much much later on. So I had a bit of a life evaluation, or more like a think about what I want to do with my life career wise, and of course I kept coming back to the ultimate dream of being an author. I love books, so it made sense that I should go into a career about books – and this is where publishing comes in.

I have very little knowledge about the publishing industry, especially as all of my experience is in the journalism sector. So began the panic earlier this year of writing to as many publishers as possible practically begging them to let me follow them around for a couple weeks (meaning work shadowing, not stalking). I made a long post previously about putting yourself out there, and this is basically what I was thinking about whilst writing it. After a few replies saying not possible, and one panicked 15 minute conversation where I was offered a placement on a week that I was away in France, I finally had an offer I could accept – and that’s where I’ve been for the past two weeks.

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I was mainly in editorial in a very small publishing house – there were only six or seven people in the office every day, and on my last day there were just three of them due to holidays – so I was able to have an insight into several different areas. I was reading through manuscripts, proof reading, compiling many different spreadsheets for Sales, and several other jobs. I’m almost tempted to write ‘completed’ on my reading challenge for this year with the amount of books I had to skim through over the past two weeks. In my first week, I read at least two manuscripts a day, but as it was mainly skim reading just to get a gist of the plot and writing style, that probably doesn’t count.

There were classic, stereotypical intern moments, such as being sent out on an errand, sorting out the bookcases in the office, and having lunch at itsu most days. There were also jobs I didn’t think I’d be given, such as going through competition entries and assessing writing.

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At this current moment in time, I’m sitting in a towel having just had a shower and have about forty minutes before I have to head off to work (no rest for the wicked), and am drawing a serious mind blank on what else to say about these two weeks. So I’ll end with this: I’m so happy I managed to secure the internship, and although it was unpaid it was fantastic experience that I will very proudly add to my CV. I’ve learned so much about the industry, met some fantastic people, and definitely have more of an idea of what I want to go into.

On Being Happy: WORDS

I was tempted to write about writing, or about books, and I probably will go into those two subjects in more detail later on (and if you’re desperate to read more about books, then head over to my other blog alwayslovetoreadalot). But I decided let’s go to the heart of the matter and what makes up literature: words.

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To mark the anniversary of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, I attended a late night at the British Library and although we were celebrating the great bard, one particular phrase that caught my attention was ‘a love of words’. Because really, I have a serious love for words. The idea that a combination of words helps you tell stories is just fascinating when you take a step back from it all, and, really, we tell stories every time someone sings, writes a book, speaks to a friend – the list just goes on.

I adore stories, hence my love for books, but I love telling stories, hence my dream of being an author. Even day-to-day anecdotes are fantastic: setting the scene, raising the tension, hitting the punchline, and wrapping everything up in a satisfying package. We’ve told stories since the first human being spoke, and we haven’t stopped since.

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I started writing down some of my favourite words since reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara (which, if you haven’t read by now, you really should). She packed that book with so many beautiful words that just fit so perfectly into her narrative that I’m pretty sure it gives euphoria to every word-lover out there. So now it’s time for a truly exciting blog post where I tell you my favourite words. I can practically feel your excitement from here.

First of: Specificities. Just say it aloud. Specificities. Now if that isn’t a fun word to say, I don’t know what is. All that sibilance is just, ah, so spectacular.

Ceaselessly. Oh yeah, more ‘ss’ sounds. It also reminds me of Great Gatsby, so what’s not to love?

Whimsical. I like how on the ‘whim’ you get a small smile on your face. It also has that beautiful arc, like going over a hill – up for the ‘whim’ and back down again from ‘sical’. Music in words, people, it exists and it’s beautiful. Feel the beauty.

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Placidly is another, and I’m pretty sure I just like these words because they’re fun to say. With the end of this one, there are just too many letters to sound out. The ‘ss’ sound, the emphasis on the ‘d’ sound, and then the ‘ly’. Such fun.

Taint. Don’t ask me why. I think it’s something to do with the overlapping ‘t’ sound.

Thither. Swivel. Discombobulated. There are just so many words. And I love them all.

I think it’s also safe to say that essay and exam season is making my brain slowly melt, until I’m just a mess of a human blathering on about words and how fun they are to say. Here’s hoping for better content come June.

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But seriously, what are your favourite words? Don’t be shy, we’re all non-judgemental here. I’m hoping anyone who can read to the end of this post isn’t judgemental at all. (Please don’t judge me)