I thought it was about time I posted here about the other major events that have been taking place in my life recently. Writing, of course, remains a major factor, but it’s not what I do day-in, day-out – there are other things that take up most of my time. Namely, this:
What you can see here is, of course, a house. More specifically, it’s the very large and very much in need of renovation house that my partner and I bought this summer. Doing so involved me quitting my job, a move of 120 miles, and entirely new careers for both of us.
At the moment, then, our lives are entirely taken up with home renovation, and everything from fitting kitchens to planting trees. This is only a temporary situation, though, as the ultimate goal is to turn our home into a business, running a B&B that will hopefully provide for us for many years to come.
All of this is a big change and a long way – both physically and mentally – from the jobs we were doing before. However, scary though starting a new business is, we’re definitely embracing the chance to be self-employed, to make our own decisions and to arrange our lives as we want them, rather than a faceless employer.
Eventually, too, we’re hopeful that this change of lifestyle will both allow us to be more active, and to keep pursuing our creative endeavours (writing, of course, being mine, and art my partner’s). How much time will remain in every day to devote to them remains to be seen, but at least that will be our decision in future.
So, a new business, a new lifestyle, and a giant leap into the unknown; if I’m sometimes a bit slow at updating the blog lately, now you know why!
A few days ago, whilst browsing the websites of other writers, I came across an author who’s had fairly decent success publishing short stories. In their blog, they were lamenting the fact that, until recently, they’d struggled to complete a novel, but I still thought their publication record an impressive one. And then I read a phrase that made my heart sink: ‘when I started writing five years ago’.
You see, when I read something like that, I can’t help but compare it to my own writing success, or lack of it. I’ve been writing now for over a decade, with not a single professional short story sale to my name. That this other writer had clearly begun to sell fiction so quickly and regularly after such a relatively short period made me wonder what I’d been wasting my time doing.
Then, though, I began to reconsider. I may not have sold any short stories, but then short fiction is something I rarely write and even more rarely finish. I may not have sold a novel, either – but I have written a good half dozen of them, honing my skills all the while. There’s also my serial fiction for Chronicles of Tyria, which I’ve been writing for over a year, and of course this blog, which has been going significantly longer.
It’s virtually impossible not to compare ourselves to other writers. It’s difficult, too, not to feel jealous at the success of others, particularly when it seems to have been either rapid or undeserved. All of this is human nature, and I sometimes wonder if anyone would strive to do anything if they weren’t trying to outdo someone else.
As writers, though, we all have our own personal journeys to undertake. It’s something of a sappy notion, admittedly, but I still think it’s true. For every sixteen-year-old with a million-pound book deal, and every bored housewife whose first rapidly-written novel is a bestseller, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of writers whose successes have been far less – and perhaps less than your own, too.
So whenever you look at another’s success, and whenever you’re inclined to enviously compare it with your own, just remember that every writer’s journey is different, unique, but no less fascinating – and that we all have to get where we’re going in our own time!
Recently, one of my favourite bands released their new single, the first off an album that’s due out next year. For anyone who’s interested, the band is Alcest, and the song ‘Opale’, which you can watch here.
In truth though, both the song and the band are irrelevant to today’s post. Instead, I want to talk about a more general aspect of positivity vs. criticism in all areas of art.
You see, when ‘Opale’ was released, the ‘fan’ comments (and I use the inverted commas there very deliberately) were fairly predictable. When Alcest formed, there was a heavy element of black metal to their music, an element which is entirely absent from their new release. As a consequence, a huge number of comments I’ve seen have run along the lines of ‘It’s not metal enough, therefore I don’t like it’.
A lot of the band’s ‘fans’ have, I feel, come to this conclusion by default, almost without listening to the new song. They’d been told in advance that black metal sounds weren’t going to appear on the new album, at which point they decided there and then that they weren’t going to like it. (Ironically, Alcest have been derided for not being ‘metal enough’ in some quarters for years – that the new album has gone further in that direction seems to be a surprise to no-one but the complainers. I honestly don’t know what they were expecting.)
The whole business bothers me: that the supposed fans suddenly hate a band for turning in a new direction, that they’re not willing to give the whole album a chance based on one song, that they go to such lengths to inform the band of their failings… All of this strikes me as both short-sighted and incredibly negative. So you don’t like a single song, and maybe you won’t like the album either. Does that stop you enjoying previous albums? Do you believe the change in style was made solely and intentionally to spite you? Does that shake your view of the world to the very foundations of the earth?
The answer to all those questions should of course be ‘no’. Liking or not liking a piece of art is, in the grand scheme of things, so very, very minor. It doesn’t alter your life, or the band’s life, or really anything at all.
And here we get to the nub of it all. So much of criticism surrounding art, particularly the ‘fan’ variety that percolates the internet, is focused on negativity. Disliking changes of style, new books by a previously-loved author, the new colour of a website… Said fans go to great and sometimes alarming lengths to make their discontent felt. And really, what does that accomplish? It lets off a few minutes of steam for the ‘fan’ – and makes the musician/author/artist feel terrible for a whole lot longer than that.
I will admit to having posted bad, even scathing reviews of books online in the past, but looking back, I genuinely wish I hadn’t. These days, I ignore the books I didn’t like and focus on the ones I did, by recommending them to other readers and posting about them here on my blog. The same goes for music, and films, and every other form of art and entertainment I enjoy.
I’m beginning to wish, too, that more people followed the same pattern. I’m not saying genuine criticism doesn’t have a place – it does, in all art forms, but it needs to be more considered than just ‘this sucks because it isn’t exactly like the last one’. Instead, I just wish that more fans and online commenters would be a little, well… nicer. Don’t like a film, a book or an album? So what? Either make your criticism a bit more constructive (i.e. a genuine review in which you point out positives as well as defects) or simply forget about it and move onto something you do enjoy.
Because I can’t help but think that, if we all focused on the positives a little more, the world would just be that bit more pleasant a place to be.
Over at Chronicles of Tyria, my serial fan-fic about Amber, an asura thief, continues apace. We’re now up to Chapter 3, in which Amber may have lost the trail of her nemesis, but still manages to continually land herself in tricky situations! But, of course, where would the fun be in an easy life?
To catch up with Amber’s story, just click on the picture above to be taken straight to her profile page, with links to each chapter. And, whilst you’re at Chronicles of Tyria, why not have a look around? It’s a site full of great stories and great characters – you never quite know what you’re going to find!
In my last post, I considered some of the pitfalls of writing serial fiction. Whilst some of them sound particularly daunting (finding time is always my biggest concern), I still believe writing a serial is a fantastic opportunity for any writer. Here’s why you should consider giving it a go.
The challenge. Writing fiction is a challenge from start to finish, but continually pushing ourselves is what makes us better writers (a mantra I’ve repeated over and over on this blog). Writing a serial not only teaches the obvious – like sticking to deadlines – but all the other skills associated with writing a novel. Character development, plot arcs, even how to end your scenes on a cliffhanger so compelling your reader can’t help but turn to the next chapter… Many of the skills needed for both novel-writing and serial fiction are the same, but trying both can teach you them in different ways.
Hidden skills. It’s not just writing skills that a serial can teach you. After all, unless your fiction is available somewhere people can read it on a regular basis, you’re basically just writing a novel, chapter by chapter. These days, it’s fairly unlikely your serial is going to end up in a newspaper, and much more likely you’re going to post it online – and that’s an arena in which there’s a lot to learn for any aspiring writer. Interacting with readers? Learning from feedback? Managing a blog or website? All vital skills, and writing a serial is a great way to get to grips with them.
Finding readers. Building an audience is becoming increasingly important for all authors, whether they’re self- or traditionally-published – and what better way to find readers than by producing a piece of ongoing, constantly evolving fiction? This becomes even more important if you’re not interested in non-fiction blogging. I tend to shudder at the word ‘content’ (which I feel mushes every art-form and piece of creative work into one huge, nondescript stew), but it’s true that continually putting your work out into the wider world is the best way to find an audience.
New ideas. It’s not all about engaging with other people, either. Writing serial fiction is just as great a challenge as writing a novel, but being pushed up against a rolling deadline means simply ignoring your story for a week or two isn’t an option. Completely out of ideas for your latest chapter? Tough! Fobbing your readers off with excuses so you can miss your deadlines and wallow in writers’ block isn’t going to get you very far. Pushing yourself to come up with new ideas by that deadline, on the other hand, can bring out your most creative side – particularly when you’ve written your character into a tricky situation and now need them to find a devious way out!
Writing serial fiction isn’t easy. Working to a tight deadline, particularly when you’ve been writing the same story for months, can feel like banging your head against a brick wall. However, the thrill of producing something fantastic under pressure, and of putting that out into the world for your (hopefully!) eagerly waiting readers, is like nothing else in writing, and is definitely worth a go.
Just over a year ago now, I started writing a piece of serial fiction for the Guild Wars 2 fan-fic site ‘Chronicles of Tyria’. The site has really gone from strength to strength over the last few months, and it’s been an honour and a pleasure for me to be involved. I’m now both a writer and an editor for the site, which means it takes up a big percentage of my writing time – a great opportunity, then, for me to post about what writing serial fiction for so long has really been like.
Perhaps a little unconventionally, I’m going to start with the ‘cons’. If you’re thinking of writing a serial, these are some of the things you need to consider:
Time. This, really, is the big one. I write a 2000 word piece for Chronicles of Tyria every two weeks. When I had more writing time, that didn’t seem too daunting. Now that my life is busier, those 4000 words are frequently the only fiction I write in a month. Of course, lives and schedules change, but knowing in advance that you’re going to be able to find the time to write frequently is a major boon if you’re going to produce a serial.
Ideas. More nebulous than ‘time’, but equally important. When you’re faced with a rolling deadline, with editors and readers waiting for your next piece, suffering from ‘writer’s block’ simply isn’t an option. No matter how tired and jaded you’re feeling, it’s vital to be able to keep developing new and exciting ideas for your fiction. In my case, I plan out each chapter (roughly 3-4 months of writing) at a time – where my story will ultimately end is still a mystery to me. Whilst this can be exhilarating, knowing you’ve got to pull a plot twist out of the bag by your rapidly-looming deadline can also be exhausting.
Consistency. You may be struggling with both lack of time and lack of ideas, but there’s still something you have to accomplish with every single post: consistency. This could be consistency of voice, of writing style (both quite tricky when you’re working on other fiction in-between), of character development or plot. Particularly if you haven’t planned out every last detail of your story, creating an enjoyable and consistent story arc over weeks or months can be a real challenge – and only your readers will be able to tell you if you’ve succeeded!
Motivation. Even if you have an abundance of both the time and ideas to keep writing your story, finding the motivation to press on isn’t always easy. So often, there’s a new project waiting just round the corner, tempting you with how shiny and exciting it is – going back to a piece of fiction you’ve been writing for a year just isn’t the same. Alternatively, your motivation for writing anything just dries up, and getting even a single sentence down becomes a chore. Finding a way to continually motivate yourself is a very personal thing, but it’s vital if you’re going to keep writing.
If you’ve considered all these pitfalls and are still enamoured by the idea of writing a serial, great! Even if you’re now feeling wary, don’t despair. In my next post, I’ll be covering all the reasons you should be writing serial fiction – and they definitely outweigh the cons.
It will not have escaped the notice of anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog that posts have been rather few and far between lately. This hasn’t been an intentional hiatus, in all honesty – instead, it’s simply been lack of time on my part that has left it untouched.
Building work continues apace here, as we push to try and get our B&B conversion complete by the spring. I’ve also been writing, primarily for Chronicles of Tyria; having a rolling deadline has encouraged me to sit down at the keyboard like nothing else! When it comes to a new novel, I’m currently working through Holly Lisle’s ‘How to Think Sideways’ course, and will be starting a new project soon. The scary prospect of submitting my last novel, ‘Root and Earth’, also looms, after perhaps one more round of proofreading checks.
There are, of course, so many other projects I wish I had time to work on, and not just limited to this blog. My indie game review site has fallen by the wayside, whilst tentative plans to self-publish a novella are on hold until I have time for more research, and potentially the money to hire an editor.
But, of course, excuses don’t put words on the page, and sometimes you just have to sit down and get things done. On that note, I just want to wish everyone who’s attempting NaNoWriMo this year a hearty ‘Good Luck!’ – there truly is no better example of ‘getting things done’ than writing 50,000 words in a month. Hopefully, next year, I’ll be one of you!