Monday, 18 February 2019

The Best Advice For Any Aspiring Writer

   Simply write.

   Does that sound unhelpful? I thought it would.
   Ever since I published, an increasing number of writers are approaching me and asking me for tips on writing books. But they're not asking "how do I get better at dialogue?" Or "do you have any writing exercise tips?" No, they ask "How do I be a writer?" And that question isn't asking what you think it is. If someone wants to be a writer, they would have started writing, automatically, without giving it a thought. They would have pen and paper, they would have their laptop, and they would be getting their ideas down. Instead, this question is asking "how do I write a book that I can sell, and sell quickly?" They're trying to bypass the learning, perhaps because they're impatient for results, or because they're under the illusion that the first book published is the first book period, or because they're older people who assume that they already have the experience from life, or because they have a great idea.

   Well, having been asked this question 10+ times already, I sat down and gave it some thought, and put together another article on my author website: I Want To Be A Writer - Where Do I Start?
   In this article I touch on the actual intention behind the question, explain the need to write, to practice, and just why it's so important to write, write, write, even though, odds are, your first 5 stories are going to be terrible. And why that's absolutely okay.
   If you're a new writer and find yourself wondering where famous, successful or even just vaguely published writers started, read this, because it's the honest truth for all of us. I've been fortunate enough to speak to other authors, big and small, and they have all said the same - to me, and in interviews with magazines. No one is above it - it's a learning process. I said it before on twitter regarding my attempt to draw:

   This applies to pretty much every art. It's not a computer input job or engineering project. Text books offer little to nothing in terms of individual help, only guidance. Why? Because there is no right or wrong way when it comes to art. Not for the finished thing. The only 'wrong' is outlook: expecting to succeed right off the bat, and bypassing the learning. Because, in art, 'learning' is what gives you your edge, your artistic identity - your 'voice'.

If something is worth having, it doesn't come easily. You have to hone your craft.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Project Tarot

   I guess that's a terrible code name, because it's not a code name at all.
   I spoke recently about exciting news, but that I didn't want to share it yet because I have a tendency to jinx things. I still could, but I'm too excited, so I'm going to chance it, especially since I'm probably one of the last people involved to actually announce it. That, and contracts and deposits have now been completed.

   One of my favourite artists, Frenone, announced in early January that she was looking for writers to contribute to a book she was planning. Having created playing cards for her Patreon before, she decided to turn her hand towards tarot cards, and because her fans wanted it, she's making a companion book. Not about tarot or tarot reading, though. There's a whole other level to this thing.
   Her playing cards had been designed with World of Warcraft characters, and in a similar vein, her tarot cards will feature illustrations of women inspired by creatures and beings of mythology and folklore. The book will contain around 22 short stories, contributed by 12 writers, that revolve around the creatures and incorporate the meanings of the cards.
   It was the day after my birthday when I saw it, and I spent an hour debating whether or not to apply. I was intimidated, because I've been a fan of hers for a few years, and I was frightened because, self published or not, I've never put my work out there in that sort of way before. And, most of all, I was put off by the use of Discord because it implied social interaction, which makes me very nervous. But I decided, having just turned 28, that it was time I put more effort into my career as a writer and start taking myself seriously.
   So I applied that same afternoon before I could talk myself out of it. I sent her the first few chapters of The Zi'veyn, and a few rough and unpolished short stories I'd written as an exercise while first planning my trilogy as a means to 1) recollect my skills after so long spent planning; 2) get to know my world a little better; 3) establish some history for the characters I felt least confident about writing. Which means she's actually the first person to have ever read them. Not even my husband has seen them.

   Well...despite 50+ applications, I was accepted immediately. I didn't even hit the slush pile.
   The boost that fact has given to my ever-shaking writing confidence is immense. I might actually be kind of okay at it...
   The Discord group was live and everyone who applied was given an invite, as those who didn't get through the selection process were still welcome as contributors to the conversations with ideas and their own knowledge. So, with the Discord live and people milling about, I threw myself right in before I could chicken out. I was the second person to introduce myself, and I have since made a few like-minded writer friends, given out a few free copies of The Zi'veyn for feedback, and been given the first 5 chapters of another's book, which I genuinely enjoyed reading and am now waiting on the rest once he's satisfied with its state. Because editing cannot be rushed.

Art © Frenone
   Once all the applications were whittled down after the closing date and the remaining writers selected, we were given choices of cards, and whether we would contribute one or two 1-page stories or 1-page poems, though with no guarantees of getting the cards we wanted. I selected a few, the most dominant of which was the Hermit card.
   But I was given an extra opportunity: to be one of three creature consultants. Myself and two others were tasked with researching creatures from myth and folklore and presenting them for the different cards, making sure that their natures worked with the cards' meanings. It was so hard, and we researched into cultures all over the world to ensure the greatest diversity, and all learned a lot from one another. I went a bit too far, though, and put so much of my heart into it that I started losing sleep, dreaming about creatures and tarot cards, and waking up stressed. I also point out that I knew nothing about tarot cards until last month. Now I think I could probably read them with some kind of confidence. But that task is now more or less done, creatures have been assigned to cards, and cards have been assigned to writers.
   And as one more piece of incredible news: while I only received one card to write for (the Hermit, which one of my creatures, the askafroa, was assigned to), I was also given the task of writing the story to accompany the front cover image, a Valkyrie, which has been allocated 3 pages rather than 1.

   Frenone has already begun work on the cards, and has already shown us a sneaky WIP of the Empress card. But it's exclusive to us and her Patreon page, so far, so it's not my place to share. But I can tell you: oh it's so good. The Hermit card isn't scheduled for work until June, and the front cover (which will also be printed on the tarot card box) in November, so I have nothing at all to share for quite some time.
   But I have already written the story for the Hermit card, as my deposit fee has been paid, and I've submitted it. The contract states two waves of edits, so I'm fully anticipating at least one rework, but she has read it, and while she's promised me feedback next week.
   I hope I can ultimately give her a piece that she loves.
   The second story, though, is intimidating, because she gave me an idea she had, and while I'm not obligated to follow it, I have to because I love it. But the pressure on this story is real. 3 pages, cover image, her favourite creature, her story idea. Yikes. I've never written to order before. Ever.
   But I am so ready to give it all I have, and I've really thrown myself deep into the research despite my own work on the second book of The Devoted trilogy.

   The artwork is set to be finished by the end of the year, and the cards and book will be available first through a Kickstarter campaign before being available publicly (assuming it's fully-funded). I will, of course, announce it here when it's live.

   In other news...

   In line with trying to take myself more seriously, and knowing that my name and my writing will be put in front of more people, I've also started making an author website. I'd wanted to do it before, but it just feels so...wrong. I'm a nobody, and no one is going to visit it. But I figured I needed some kind of portal or platform where I could gather up all my work and put news if I ever had any, and, if nothing else, I wanted to make sure didn't go to someone else with the same name. The same, I shamefully admit, applies to my new facebook author fanpage, which I feel so ridiculous about that I'm not even going to link it.
   It's still a major sense of imposter syndrome, and I still feel ridiculous with the thought of the website alone, and want to shrink and hide somewhere when I see it, but I am ultimately glad I have it. But I only plan on updating it when I have something more tangible than this post to announce. So, probably not until I have permission to show the Hermit card's work, if not until the Kickstarter itself is live this winter.

   Oh, also, when I searched my name on Google to see just what would pop up, I found a knowledge panel of myself!! There are two, which is annoying, but since these knowledge panels are generated based on demand and stats, not made by any users, it seems that Google has decided I'm someone of some kind of importance. That's...weird, and kind of wonderful...

Monday, 11 February 2019

Being a Wordy Writer, And How To Fix It

   I learned a writing term, recently. It's an ironic term, and self-explanatory, and it applies to the vast majority of young, self-published and unpublished writers. 'Over-use of exposition'. What does over-use of exposition mean? It means 'wordy'. And it's probably the most common trap that a writer will be caught in.
   I'm caught in it myself - I've know that much long before I heard the technical term - and I'm actively working against it. And it's hard. Having been taught in primary school not to write a story of 'and then, and then, and then', to inject heart into it instead of merely writing a series of events, I naturally try to keep as much description and passion in it as I can to separate myself from mediocre writers (not that I actually claim to be otherwise). And that leads to long, drawn-out stories that are tedious to read. The reader doesn't need to be able to picture every corner of a room or every freckle on someone's face for it to be a good book. A good book is clever, it has a heart, maybe even a message, and was a pleasure to read. Unnecessarily wordy stories are not a pleasure to read. And yet, even in knowing that, it's still something I and any number of other young or professionally inexperienced authors will succumb to.

   I've been revising the second book of my trilogy these past few weeks, and it's being proven to me that this is still very much a problem in my own writing. It's not as bad as once it was, but I'm still finding myself deleting more than altering. But I'm learning, and trying to break deep-seated habits. And while it disheartens me to see that I'm still succumbing, it's also nice to know that I'm identifying the problem and that I know how to fix it. I'm not so certain that my work is great, I'm not so set on "past-me wrote this for a reason" and too afraid to let it go. Editing is so important, and the 'delete' button is not your enemy.
   Just...make sure you back up your files before you edit them.

   How do you fix it? Well, if you find yourself in the same situation, if you're a wordy writer who needs help identifying the problem with over-use of exposition and tips on how to adjust and edit it, then take a look at this article on my author website (yes, I have one - hello imposter syndrome) and see if it helps. There is a writing exercise at the end, and an activity that you can apply to your current book, novel, short story - whatever piece of creative writing you're currently working on.
   Let me know if it helps, or if you need anything cleared up and I'll be more than happy to answer and/or edit the page where necessary!

Monday, 4 February 2019

3 Month Resistance Plan - v1.2

   This time I'm revisiting my first training plan. When I started this set-up back in April, I didn't know what to expect - of it, or myself. It ended up being the key to a happier life. Why?
1) no cardio. I hate cardio. I mean, really hate it. Kickboxing and Muay Thai is the only time I can do it; anything else is torture.
2) it shifted my focus away from losing weight and on to ability and muscle gain, instead, which meant that my goals changed, were met, and the goal posts moved. I saw amazing progress in my own abilities. I began caring less about how my body looked, and more about what it could do.
3) I started eating more.
4) I didn't get bored as quickly, which saved money - no buying new DVDs every month. In fact, this workout - and all since - have cost me £3.99 a piece. The price of the magazine that I get the total body workouts from. All others are from Youtube.

   I'm revisiting the first of my training plans and giving it three months rather than two. That said, I've also started on bigger weights. When I first started out, I was using a 12.5kg barbell (£30 from Women's Health with a total weight of 20kg). After 8 months of training, I come back to this now and I'm starting it with a 22.5kg barbell. I bought a new 10kg plate.
   The plan is as below:

Monday - Lower body via Whitney Simmons' Youtube (landmine replaced with over-shoulder kettlebell
Tuesday - Yoga & stretching
Wednesday - Total body via Gemma Atkinson & Women's Health Magazine (Jan/Feb 2018)
Thursday - Qi Gong
Friday - Lower body via Whitney Simmons' Youtube
Saturday - Back/upper body Whitney Simmons' Youtube (cables replaced by resistance bands behind a bench)
Sunday - Rest / Qi Gong (if not Thursday)

   But I am approaching it differently. I've hinted time and again towards my experiment with calories, which I plan on writing about in 2-3 months' time once I have some solid information and experience to share. In short, though: I'm eating more. When I started out, I was eating 1,600 calories a day. I'm at 2,000 a day now. I'll elaborate - how, why, when - soon. But I will tell you this: I'm still a UK size 8.

   Because of that experiment, though, I'm only riding this workout for one month, then taking a month out for the Core de Force I would usually have done this month, then picking it back up for two more months over April and May. I'll finally explain the experiment then.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Resistance Training - 3 Month Check-In

   I'm really, really happy with these 3-month training plans. From 2014-2017 I was changing my workout every month, and it worked for me because I was using DVDs and they would generally wear me out (and bore me) if I used them any longer than that, so it was a great excuse to try new things. I tried dance - even Irish step and Celtic - Pilates, yoga, kettlebells, kickboxing, lifting hand weights, I swore by Jillian Michaels. And I lost weight, and I enjoyed it.

   But when I decided to try my hand at larger weights - barbells, mainly - I opted for a 2-month stint with the aim of lifting gradually heavier and really giving my body the chance to put muscle gain over fat loss. I was really daunted by the idea of no change for 2 months, but I gave it my all.

   I loved it. Since then I've put together two 3-month plans, and have seen them all through. I have found that I really, really enjoy working out this way, and it really works for me. The dread I would begin to feel after 2-3 weeks' use of a DVD never reached me with the weights until (if I'm going to be totally honest) half way through the third month. The progress is easier to see, too, and comes much quicker - not necessarily physically, but in ability. I choose my starting weight (light enough to be able to complete a set of 10-12 reps, but heavy enough that the last 2-3 are quite difficult but don't quite break form) and use that for two weeks, then I increase the reps - from 10 to 12, or 12 to 15. Two weeks later, I increase the weights and reduce the reps to the original number if it's necessary, then increase them two weeks later. I increase more frequently if it's necessary, but this 2-week system seems to work.
    It's also a great way to push yourself to lift more, since barbells are so easily increased. When I first started these training plans back in April, I was using a 12.5kg barbell. I finished this last training plan with 22.5kg and bought a new 10kg plate.

   But, where I would usually take a month off and opt for cardio, I've got another idea...

   I've been experimenting with calories - you may have caught mention in my top tips for weightloss post - so I plan to continue for one more month, then take a month of cardio. But I am ready to swap this workout out for another, so I'm heading back to my first 2-month plan, but for 3 months. I begin on Monday, will run it for a month, then take a month out, then come back to it for two more. I don't want to talk about the experiment yet, not until I can provide a solid write-up. With any luck, I'll be done with the basics by April.
   Seeg and I are going away for our 1st wedding anniversary/honeymoon (at last) in May, and while feeling my best is very important, I want to look it, too. So I'm going all out on cardio in March, recouping over April, and hopefully be closer to body confident when we go away than I am now.

   Let's be honest - feeling good is a big, big part of looking good, but a little less belly fat always helps, if it's something that bothers you, and it is something that bothers me. I'm not going to lie and make you feel worse if you disagree by claiming that I don't care about the fat on my body and belittling your insecurities. Because I do, and I want it gone. But I'm no longer prepared to go through extreme measures to do it, and that is progress, because it's moving towards acceptance of my body as it is, of self-love (or self-like, I suppose - body-neutrality is a much more reasonable goal than body-positivity), and that is an important step. If you have no self-love, you could get your dream body and still feel like you're not there, because you'll never be satisfied. You need a rational mindset if you're going to succeed - no outlandish expectations.

   I'll link the workout again tomorrow ♥

Friday, 1 February 2019

Friday Favourites

January was a funny sort of month, but in a very good way. It's been so exciting, and has thrown me well outside my comfort zone. I'm not the kind of person who likes to talk about my plans, I prefer, upon the advice of a duck, to show my results instead. So when I embark upon things I don't like to mention them until either I'm finished, or it has solid enough foundations to guarantee completion. Why? I believe in jinxing. It happens all the time. Plus if you tell people your plans and they fall through, you end up looking a fool and, if you do it too often, no one will ever take you seriously. So I keep plans quiet.
However, I hope to write a post about last month's excitement soon, as it's the kind of thing that has just about developed those solid foundations, and will in fact take a full year before it is actually finished. So, if I'm to share it, it will be in the next few weeks when I have the final details.
I'm also about to embark upon something else - two projects, in fact - but they are also long, and while one needs those same foundations before I'm prepared to talk about it, which will take months, the other needs completion. I'm excited, though.

Anyway, this has been a wonderfully cold week, at last. And so my favourites for the week are duly suitable. First of all, socks. Every day for 4 days straight, I found myself saying "I love socks, they're so good" every time I pull them on. I've been walking around with 2-3 pairs on this week. It has been cold. Even when my best friend, Lucy, came over mid-week, she said exactly the same thing. Because socks are simply awesome. As is soup, and Soupologie's curried sweet potato is just amazing.
I also got a new sticker for my laptop, which has been in constant use with my redrafting - Vol'jin, 'For the Horde', by Frenone. I loved her playing cards but was never able to get them, so I was pleased when the designs were made available on her Society6 store. I've followed her art for years.
And Seeg finished Assassin's Creed Odyssey this week, which I was suprised to have enjoyed as much as I did. Amazing game, but terrible in the AC franchise. Ultimately, however, very enjoyable. We managed to get the best ending, too, and I was especially surprised when I teared up. But I am a bit of a baby, to be honest; it doesn't take much to make me cry...

Soupologie   ♥   Warchief sticker by Frenone
Assassin's Creed Odyssey   ♥   Socks