Journeying Pains

Blog title Journeying Pains, with blog post quote; The story will never be perfect. And that’s OK, it’s why you need editors, betas, readers, reviews, and experience. But most of all to keep writing, and keep trying. There are vines on the edges.

Journeying Pain

Most writes say that their writing life is a journey and that it’s different for every writer. Ups and downs, versions of success, what they’re writing and how its published. So many different paths to take. But we have one thing in common: the doubt. The “what if” thoughts that are never or rarely optimistic, and if they are, many contain an overwhelming chunk of inevitable disappointment.

I remember the first time I decided I was going to be serious about an author.

I needed to write a book. To have a plan.

Cue the inevitable – what if I can’t finish? What if I’m not able to write a cohesive book?

A great weight fell on me, and few things could negate it. How could I sit and write a book I planned to sell, how good of a story did it need to be? I tried, kept writing, and knew I’d needed guidance. I had something complete. It was a full story. I was kind of happy with it.

Then I realized with dread the next biggest hurdle was finding someone to edit it.

But I was paying them, so surely that was OK, right? They’d help.

I found an editor, who, with mostly carrot and some stick, guided me edits on my first novella. The editing process was a learning phase I wasn’t ready for. Nice and caring as my editor was, they were very clear on the work I still needed to do.

It hollowed me out. There was so much work. I didn’t know at times whether it was worth it, but I’d paid for it, I had to finish it. I couldn’t quit when I’d just started. And then I finished it, it was done, I could finally… give… it… to people. To read. Other people. People I didn’t know. Who didn’t know me.

I don’t even remember hitting the publish button on Amazon the first time. I just remember having it all set up, the absolute terror I’d stuffed something up, and hoping a good friend would get it and check it for me, because I couldn’t see the mistakes, I was making any more.

So, I released it, hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst, and waited for reviews that came back and said… this is good.

Success!

I wrote another novella with high hopes and sent that off to my editor. I had some teething issues but managed to get it done. I knew how to do this, how to write, how to get there. But every time I wrote a book there was something I hadn’t done. Some new problem with my writing to tackle, some flaws I needed to smooth out. Until I learned, over time, a very hard lesson.

The story will never be perfect.

And that’s Ok, it’s why you need editors, betas, readers, reviews, and experience. But most of all to keep writing and keep trying. I came to accept that there would always be a flaw with my writing. Some of the hollowness went away.

Then I held a new kind of hollow. Because my world changed. I could no longer afford the necessary funds to self-publish, and I began querying. I’d have to let other people assess if my story was worth publishing.

In the past I’d never had to deal with that emotion. The less polite term is gatekeeping. The idea of someone else deciding if my words were worth the greater world’s attention. But at the time, the only other choice was to quit.

This was a step beyond what I was ready for. The self-assurance of past success wasn’t good enough. I needed to write better, to learn how to create well crafted stories. I read so many popular books trying to break down their components, understood what made stories tick, why this book and not that one, even sometimes when I loved it, and other times when I didn’t.

The hollowness within grew. Because I fed it.

I scanned reviews, I searched similar authors, I began planning what was next for me. What was there for me after self-publishing? A small press, and I signed on with the wonderful Literary Wanderlust in a random sequence of events that left me unequivocally delighted.

Yet the hollowness grew. I wanted to be part of something more, I wanted the next step. The stages in publishing were clearly laid out, self-pub, small press, agent, trad press.

Like publishing was some linear achievement and this was all like a game but with my spare time and whole heart.

My mind needed instructions, it accepts the rules of a situation because I need rules. I need the guidelines; I was asking myself now “What next?” instead of “what if” and all it did was making the hollowness grow. A great sucking vacuum some of you will call with cynical humor the “querying trenches.”

Where did that leave me? Ever trying to find out what mysterious story components were needed to create something greater than I could envisage. To find out what I was “missing.”

I had to come up with an original story idea, didn’t I? That’s what Neil Gaiman says.

I needed to make sure I stuck with traditional concepts twisted as something new, didn’t I? That’s what many tutorials said.

I needed to make sure my story followed a specific arc, didn’t I? That’s what Save the Cat said.

But it wasn’t just these people saying what was needed, it was EVERYONE who agreed with them.

It was all the people who in pitch events and mentorship programs asked for the books of our hearts, but still there were these invisible rules I couldn’t read, didn’t understand, wasn’t reaching.

The hollowness consumed everything.

What was I, if I couldn’t achieve these things? What would happen to me, if I could never make the next steps? If it was too far out of my reach…

I’d like to tell you this has a happy ending; it doesn’t. There are days I still feel like a wall blocks me from those next steps. That there is some next level, like publishing is a straight line and not a ball a of wool more tangled than my own perspective of this industry. That bitter kittens haven’t clawed the wool to complete shit, that the hypocrites and gatekeepers calling for what publishing “should” be, and no one knows what to do because there is something “wrong” with trad publishing. Yet everyone still treats self-pub like the author had no other options to spout their hopeless drivel and they should’ve kept it on an abandoned blog from the noughties.

There are days the darkness of doubt within is so vast I can’t breathe.

WHY AM I STILL DOING THIS?

Because… I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t a writer.

Because… I love writing stories; my happiest moments are when a plan comes together.

Because… I can’t imagine doing anything else with my time that would bring me such joy as starting a new story, finishing an old one, editing enough to make it polished so that one day, one dark, depressing day, I can open up my inbox and see a message from someone looking to buy a signed copy of my book. A book they’ve already read and loved, and they want a physical copy with my signature for their shelf.

Not a family member. Not a friend. Not someone from social media I was acquainted with.

A complete stranger.

You could say this is about validation, and you’d be right. There is no point lying about feeling validated in this industry. Or that whenever I get a five-star review, and I do, that each one chips away at the hollowness. But here’s the thing; I’m sending one of the copies of my book to that stranger via international post at my own expense. The five-star reviews coming in for Behind the Veil are all on platforms I’ve arranged to get ARC reviews from, and all I want is for people to enjoy the tales that I tell, and then my happiness is twofold; I write the stories I love, and people love them too.

Writing stories should always be about the story, never where it ends up, because some stories will never go further than your heart, and others will end up in the arms of a stranger who loves them just as much as you do.

Both stories are valid, loved, and why the hollowness will never ever stop me writing the next story.

If you’d like an advanced copy of my book, sign up to my newsletter, check out my Twitter and Facebook posts, I’m giving away copies in advance, if you’d like to find a story you might love.

HELLO, I’M HERE. CAN YOU SEE ME? BUILDING YOUR AUTHOR PLATFORM

(EXCERPT FROM ‘WRITE THAT BOOK – HELPFUL RAMBLINGS OF A SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHOR’)

If you want to be seen as a writer, you need to build an author platform, a brand if you like. Yes, you can most certainly do this before your book is published, or even written. What is an author platform? An author platform is simply a writer’s presence on the internet.


Movies have trailers for a reason. To generate interest and excitement around their upcoming release. Why should books be any different? Make yourself known in the writing community. Wave your freak flag if you need to, but whatever you do, jump up and down waving your arms and say, ‘Hey, here I am.’ They say most writers are introverts, but this is no time to be shy.


Just because you are not yet published, doesn’t mean you are not an author. I hate hearing people refer to themselves as aspiring authors. If you write, you are an author. You don’t hear people say, ‘I’m only an aspiring fire fighter, as I am yet to save someone from a burning building.’


The writing community is very active on all platforms of social media. Are you already on Facebook? Create an author page linked to your account. Remember to only post writing related things on your author page, as you are building your brand after all. Keep it separate from your personal profile.


If using Twitter, use trending hashtags. Some of the most commonly used include, #Writing #AmWriting, and #WritingCommunity. Using hashtags will help other writers find you, so you can build a following, and start to engage with others.


I must admit, I struggle using Instagram as an author, but I am still active on the platform. Every social media outlet is an opportunity to be seen. I post things such as my book covers, covers of books I’ve read, and photos of me working on my current work in progress.


Try to ensure you are active on all platforms, post regularly, and most importantly, engage with others. Nobody likes someone who only posts to promote themselves. The writing community as a whole, is an engaging and supportive one, so come and join the party. I’ll bring the wine.


Think about an author website. You can have a free website, or pay for one with your own domain. Having your own domain helps with being taken seriously as an author, but a free website is still a good option if funds are tight. It’s a bit like ice-cream. Vanilla is good, but vanilla choc-chip is that little bit better.


My author site has a blog that contains excerpts from my upcoming books, book reviews, interviews, and insights into my writing journey. A website is also a great place to promote your books once published. The great thing about a website is, you can make it your own. Let your personality shine through.


Ensure your website has a sign up or subscribe button. This will help you gather a list of readers email addresses, with their permission of course, so you can send out email campaigns, and have people notified if you post on your blog.


Whether it’s on your website or on social media, let people know what genre you write, to help you connect with other authors of that genre. Your potential readers are their readers. Maybe write a guest post and invite others to do the same on your site. Try not to contact someone unless you have had meaningful engagement with them in some capacity first. Don’t be the creepy stalker who sidles up to a bedroom window uninvited.


Remember earlier, I said this is no time to be shy? Here’s why. Podcasts, radio interviews and YouTube are also great ways to get your name and brand out there.


Well, that covers the basics of building your author platform. So, what are you waiting for!

Hayley is an Australian author of light hearted fiction. Hayley was born and bred in Sydney, and lives in Far western Sydney with her partner and two young stepsons. She love animals (don’t all writers), is a coffee addict, and has a wicked sense of humour. Hayley’s sense of humour is brought to life in her story telling. She loves to make people laugh, by writing fun stories they can relate to. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Other Side

Cartoon of people with books, an increasing pile of books, and a rainbow over a book, with the title “The Other Side.”

I’ve spent some time querying, so when I started with Literary Wanderlust as an intern I was not prepared for how subjective the experience was going to be on the other side. I vividly remember the first few queries addressed to me with an absolute thrill that someone wanted me to look after their work. I read through them carefully, and there were brilliant stories there.

But some of them weren’t for me. And I loathe that expression.

“It’s just not for me.”

I love all stories.

There are very few books I just DNF (do not finish), and its because stories are an amazing journey. Fantasy, scifi, paranormal and horror are my home ground. I love these magical worlds that stretch the imagination to their limit.

They are no less or greater than the stories of home. Contemporary tales of the heart. Literary pieces about the human condition. They teach you about other people, how they feel, and what they experience.

As someone on the autism spectrum I’m always enraptured at these tales. I get to learn about other people and how they think, and the author does it such a way I can understand. My bookshelf is wide and varied and my writing is too because of it.

But that’s who I am as a reader.

So no, you won’t find many stories that aren’t for me as a reader. I will generally only stop if the writing needs a lot of work and there are a lot of inconsistencies. It’s why I review books honestly because being honest about that part of a writer’s work is sometimes the only way they get feedback.

Feedback is valuable to a writer, it builds their toolbox of skills when the time comes to write more. The way to learn to be a better writer is from this feedback, and it comes in many varied forms that requires more and more work.

With work like beta reading, you spend the time reading as a reader, but intuitively aware you’re there to ensure it is smooth. To not change much at all, maybe point out the odd typo, or that a character has something they didn’t have a scene ago. All of it just smoothing edges.

Before this, the script would have been with a CP, (critique partner), who will go over it much more thoroughly. Point out telling scenes and info dumping, make sure the story arc is natural and characters develop along with the plot.

A developmental editor may ask for much more beyond these things; moving whole scenes, redirecting story arcs, rewriting endings and overhauling characteristics. Getting beyond the text of the story to the nature of what is truly being written about. What you envisaged rather than what twenty six letters containing your imagination.

All of which is work. A lot of work.

I have spent months editing other people’s work. It’s taken six months of editing almost nonstop to get a book of my own up to scratch and I’m still tweaking it. And this is something I do outside of my day job. It takes time away from what I love most; writing.

I am always grateful to people who want to work on my stories because their love of what I’m doing isn’t just confined to wanting to work with me, its also about loving the story enough to commit to that level of work. Sometimes that’s what it takes to say yes; to be prepared for that level of commitment to a story that isn’t your own.

I think for some writers it takes a long time to write the story, but for me, the editing process is twice, three, four times as long. Perhaps the fault lies within me as I write quickly and need to edit a lot more later. Maybe you’ve experienced it the other way around depending on how meticulous you’ve been.

But stories that you want to go on to be published still require that work. There are still things that need doing from plot restructure to copy edits and punctuation. There is so much more detail that goes into polishing a book for publication than you’d ever know unless you’ve done it. More than once.

Which is why I can now appreciate what agents and editors experience with hundreds of queries coming in; they have to pick the stories that resonate with them. When you walk into a bookstore you don’t buy the entire stock, you buy the book you couldn’t put down, that reminded you why you read. It doesn’t mean you hated all the other books; they just weren’t the ones for the you right now. Or maybe never will be.

You can’t dictate what they do and do not accept anymore than you can force someone to fall in love.

Maybe that means not every book finds “the one.” Maybe that means some novels get trunked (saved in a filed to be forgotten). Maybe it means the heart wrenching process of letting go of your dream story. Maybe it means going back to the drawing board and starting again. That hurts.

But I never see these works as wasted. I see them as not right now. I see them as a possibility I’ve saved for later, because every novel you finish is the one you as a writer were ready and meant to finish. Every book has its place, and sometimes its not about where the book ends up, but who you are when you finish it.

Love that book, keep loving it, and write on.

One day I had to set aside my heart project. The one that made me become a writer. I was sad but I was finally free to do something wild. Daring. Like I hadn’t ever let myself do before. From the dusty book tomes of my mother’s romantic suspense, and my own obsession with the darkness within death, Behind the Veil came to me as a single scene. It splurged out of me as though it was always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for its chance.

When I handed it over to my good friend Hart, in a moment of doubt, I wondered if I even had something. Something worth writing about and maybe for more than myself.

Encouraged by her words, it was as though the story had permission to be written, that it needed to come out and did so in a matter of twenty five days. When I was done, I had no idea what to do with it, until friends who’d read it said I should pitch it. And a publisher liked that tweet. A few flurried months later Sharon at Literary Wanderlust wanted it, and I wanted to give it to her.

After several grueling years of covid and other disasters, I’m so pleased to announce that it is now here and available for preorder!

You can find it on Amazon and if you need it now it’s available on Netgalley for review. Not enough? Hang out and sign up to my news letter for secret info on how you can win eARCs and in the coming months paper copies and special surprises!

I hope you fall in love with this dark and gothic world, of grief and sacrifice, those left behind, and those who aren’t meant to walk this earth. Of gentle manners and hard hearts. Of the brashness of bravado and the quietness of courage. I hope you love Letitia and Alasdair as much as I do.

Social Media Monster

Social media is not a monster. No, listen, keep reading, hear me out. I know you’re an introverted writer. I know that we’ll use any excuse to stay indoors (ok, but I’m in Melbourne and lockdown 4 does suck but so does covid so be safe). But if you are going to be a writer, readers need a way to find you, and that’s why your author brand is so important.

When agents and publishers ask for this information, what they’re looking for is whether you are active and want to engage with readers. Think about some of your favourite authors and what they do. Go looking for them. Some of them may do very little social media (maybe none at all), or they may be rather prolific.

But most of them are one thing: Using platforms they are comfortable with, posting content they are comfortable with, at times that work for them. Social media shouldn’t be a chore, but if you don’t like it, it can feel that way. However, there are a lot of ways out there to reach readers, and lots of programs to help you put out a social media presence. Hootsuite allows you to post at chosen times of peak engagement. Canva allows you to create engaging images without having to take selfies, or even book promo material.

Find where your readers are, and look to other authors and how they are engaging their reader base. Here is a list of the most common, but by no means only social media platforms, with a short snippet on my experiences with them.

FACEBOOK

Content: Words, pictures, and videos.

Timing Guide: Once a week – Once a day

This social media platform has the bonus of creating different kinds of accounts depending on your level of comfort with social media. You can just use a personal page but with family and friends there may be people you want to connect with that aren’t about your writer’s life and so it becomes secondary to the purpose of using that social media. You can create a Facebook page, or even a group for your author profile. A page allows you to post what you want, and people can interact with it. A group tends to be more involved because you’ll need to grant members permission to post things that may not always be about you as an author and does require more interaction.

PATREON:

Content: Blog like posts with images and videos

Timing Guide: Once a month to once a week

BONUS: Patreon requires that followers pay a fee of your choosing to follow you

This requires possibly the most amount of attention. The followers of Patreon are expecting regular exclusive content and building a loyal dedicated fan base is about your dedication to those willing to pay a small amount of money for the content you provide. Many authors with excellent reputations use this to subsidize their author income. I follow Gareth Powell, who posts about his work and paintings, but also interactive posts about writing tips, and asking if he can help writers. It requires regular posting monthly if not more often, but it does allow exclusive content to loyal fans.

TWITTER

Content: Pictures and videos, word limit of 280 characters

Timing: Once every day or so – multiple times a day

I’ll be completely biased; this is my home ground. As someone who is ND, I initially found twitter overwhelming. There are SO many conversations, topics, hashtags, trends. But do you know what else there is? A very big and vibrant writing community. From indie to trad, self-pub to vanity, writers of all kinds abound. I found the best way to handle it was follow and learn from authors I admire, find other authors at my level. Follow editors and agents for great tips and connect with people. I have agents who’ve rejected me that now follow me back. I owe my contract to Literary Wanderlust because during a pitch event Sharon Salonen liked my tweet (an invitation to submit to the publishing company where she is an editor). If you don’t know what these things are, or you find them confusing, just ask. Twitter is incredibly friendly to newcomers and there are many who are happy to help explain. To be considered reasonably active, you’d post here twice a day or so at peak times, or once every second day at least, but I find engaging with tweets the best way to network.

TIKTOK

Content: Videos

Timing: Once a week – multiple times a day

A platform that allows you to put a short video up. Which to the technologically challenged can be very intimidating (me; it intimidates me). But it does allow for a lot of clear vocal communication about topics that matter to writers. Book launches, snippets, new book box openings. The uses are limitless. I’ve seen people do mock videos of writer situations with their spouse, re-enactments of their books. The only limit is your imagination. And no; you do not have to be a “pretty” person to use this social media. As long as what you are saying is contextually specific to your author brand, that’s all that matters. So – I guess I’ll be shortly posting writer tips with the dog chewing my hair because that’s the only way I can film myself.

SNAPCHAT:

Content: Videos & animated pictures

Timing: daily – multiple times a day (snapchat deletes images after 24 hours)

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I do not know a lot about this social media platform except that it appears many of its users have moved on to Tiktok or stayed on Instagram. This platform has its dedicated presence and like any platform its about connecting to your fan base/readership group. The downside here is that the images disappear after 24 hours so you do need to be posting and often.

YOUTUBE:

Content: Videos

Timing: Once a week – Once a month

YouTube is where I go for music and to find “how to” videos and explain stuff that Wikipedia isn’t articulating correctly for me. But its also an excellent source of writer’s articles and you can contribute! There are a lot of great writing channels, booktubers who do reviews and a host of informative information about tropes, cliches, and… criticism. Like any social media platform, YouTube has its fair share of those who will happily criticize writing, and like all social media platforms, it’s a good idea to do some research as to what you watch for advice, and how experienced that person is in their field.

INSTAGRAM:

Content: Pictures and videos

Timing: Once a week – daily

There are many who are moving from other platforms (Twitter), to Instagram for more engagement with a younger reader base, but there is a lot of scrutiny on physical appearance which is what intimidates me, but here is the thing; you don’t have to post selfies. There are many users who post pictures of food, books, coffee and tea, and other things. We’re writers, not models, and we shouldn’t be intimidated by physical appearances because in the end that’s not what we do; we’re writers. Post who you are, become familiar with your brand, and notice all the other writers doing the same. One great advantage of Instagram is the ability to post the same text and the link to the Instagram picture onto your Facebook and Twitter account.

WEBSITE:

Content: pictures, videos, posts, blogs

Timing: Once every few days – once every few months

This I have to stress is the MOST important thing you can do. Even if its just a static page, something you host on a free website with a premade template. Why? Lemme tell you about the time I first started investigating social media and all you found when you looked up E J Dawson was a basketballer. I didn’t even make the first page. Now I’m the first thing that turns up (or maybe that’s googles algorithms). Either way there is a lot that turns up for both of us now, and I’m hoping the sports guy keeps going because he looks dedicated as hell, just like I plan to be. But make it easy for a reader to find you. To find your other work. Because if they love it enough to look you up they want more, and they can use your website to sign up to newsletters and find out more about the writing you love and about you.

There are a host of other platforms; Tumbler, Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest, but the most important thing about any of them is two things; find out where your demographic is and be comfortable using that platform. You may be surprised where your readers actually spends their time, and the best thing you can do is be where it is, as long as you be yourself.  That’s what your author brand is, and that’s what you should focus on. Don’t be scared to look up other authors, check out what they are posting and how, find something that fits you. You want to be sincere on social media to further your engagement, and the best person to be is yourself.

Cover of Wendy, Darling, with illustrated figures of three people, two holding hands, flying upwards from a London cityscape

I’ve loved the story of Peter and Wendy since I was a little girl, and it took this story with its unique perspective to remember how much I truly hated the original.

How the boys went to war, and Wendy was relegated to tying false bandages on false wounds, making dinners made of nothing, and being a mother to boys who never want to grow up.

As though a girl can never really be a girl.

But Wendy is no ordinary girl now. She’s a woman. She went home after Neverland and was never the same – and it’s Peter’s fault.

From the heart thundering start when Wendy senses Peter’s return, to the awful moment he mistake’s Wendy’s daughter Jane for Wendy herself, this book’s genteel horror caught me in a net. Ensnaring, playful, threaded with half truths and lies, it’s a cleverly woven telling of what came after when Wendy grew up.

This book explores the tale from Wendy’s perspective, alternating between her quest to retrieve her daughter, and the awfulness of her return from Neverland. That no one believed her, until her brother had no choice but to have her committed.

We then see the island of Neverland not quite like it was before with Jane, and her adventures with Peter and the Lost Boys. Except the boys are truly lost, Jane doesn’t remember her own name, and Peter is ever there, ready for another game that makes no sense and the rules always change.

Between the two, glimpses of dread start to emerge, a far starker and grim fate for those who once populated the island, but there are other horrors to come. Neverland has a secret, a darkness at it’s heart and Wendy must face it to save Jane.

Wise’s prose is phenomenal – it drags you into a visceral world you can feel, emerges you in sensations with aching moments of almost prose like writing that’s simply put, gorgeous. I fell into these moments, forgot where I was or what I was doing, and in that I think is possibly my only criticism. Sometimes I’d forgotten where in the story we were up to when we returned, or that the memory or moment had a purpose. Dropped back into the story, it wasn’t disjointed so much as disorientating, and that may have been the intent.

For much of the story we spend with Wendy in the asylum where no one believes her, to Jane who’s so influenced by Peter she forgets her own name, struggles to remember that she’s not really Wendy, it’s a delicate mental balance beautifully written. The pair and their view of one another, and what it means to be a mother, what it means to be a woman in a place and time where they are little more than objects, was so well told it hurt.

I’ll never see Peter in quite the same light again, and I feel all the more powerful for it thanks to this book.

Internship!

There are varying times in my author career I’ve inevitably known I’ve failed. Whatever was being asked for, whatever they wanted, I couldn’t give.

This… wasn’t one of those times. This was the opposite.

In a conversation about other matters, I vented my frustration.

About doors being closed in my face in the publishing industry. I can’t count the people who have done this to me, those who made me feel excluded, small, not enough.

And it hurts, as though I’ve done something wrong. As though being myself wasn’t enough.

Expressing this to Susan, the powerhouse behind Literary Wanderlust, I said to her “I want to be better, I want to do more. And I’m willing to work for it.”

When she suggested I be a developmental editor with Literary a switch clicked inside. This was the next step. This was the next learning phase. This was what I needed to do.

I’m a prolific beta reader and my author page says so from reviews. I know I give good feedback, but the idea of being able work with writers to reach publishing dreams was so far beyond the scope of anything I thought I’d be able to do before… for a moment I was uncertain.

Could I do that? Look at queries, find one I wanted to make shine and dedicate myself to it?

Absofuckinglutely.

I’ve worked with so many authors on their scripts. I’d more than once heard that I’d nailed the undefinable wrongness with a script that the author couldn’t see themselves. But the idea of working on a project that would be published drove me even harder. I want to work with someone who has a great story. Something they were passionate about. I’ve worked with so many authors in the past but this would be different.

And I’d need to be different for them.

I signed up to dev editor courses that day. I have books coming in the mail. But most of all I have a background working with writers who have said to me; Oh! I didn’t even SEE that bit! Thank you!

Because I believe that every story I ever see has bits the author doesn’t see, myself included. And that means finding faults, eradicating plot holes, but it also means finding great stories.

And sometimes it isn’t a great story to start off with. But that’s what editors are for.

You can now submit stories to me at Literary Wanderlust’s submission page, and I’m very proud, and honored, that Susan is going to teach me. Because this writing journey isn’t just about me. It’s about every writer I’ve met and encouraged on the way.

That every story needs a champion. Sometimes it’s not the one within the story.

I look forward to seeing yours.

Dead zone

Picture of a dying flower, with the text DEAD ZONE ejdawson.com

I woke up this morning at 6am, got out of bed, and hit the desk with a furor and if you think this is how I normally operate you’d be dead wrong.

I’m an out of bed by about 8:30, maybe 9am on a Saturday, because it’s the morning I get to sleep in with the dog. Right now, he’s sulking in the cat’s bed. Staring at me. I broke the routine. Bad dog mum.

What’s got me here?

The opposite of my last few weeks.

I hit what I like to refer to as dead zones.

My drive to write, create, encourage was there, under the surface an intent I wanted. But most evenings when I normally focus on these things, I wasn’t doing it.

Was it because my day job was going through a huge and important upskill? Or that I was coping with getting serious feedback on my first neurodiverse book? Even preparing to start querying that book next week?

Maybe it was all of it, but my brain just said ‘no’ every time I wanted to get behind the keyboard and do some serious work. To sit and hyper focus, to just let the words come, beta read projects, polish short stories, fix big ones.

It took me a little while this morning that while my intent to do all these things was still there, and I wanted too, I’d taken a mental vacation from “work” because that’s exactly what it was, work.

I have a choice about what I do, how hard I drive myself, but that includes what I do with my spare time, and when ninety percent of it is writing in one form or another, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for mental break.

What triggered it?

I’d read a tweet about a guy who worked so hard his brain broke.

A wriggling fear and source of procrastination crept up on me. I’d written the other week about people who quit writing, and underneath it was a horrible dread that one day I’d be that person too. That either my brain would snap from all the demands, or one day, one little defeat would be one too many, and I’d just… stop.

I recently finished an almost yearlong demand list of scheduled work that needed doing, just a few weeks ago, so while had my own mental schedule, there were no editors or people I had specific dates to return projects to. There were no competitions or mentorship projects with deadlines. There was nothing but what I needed to do, when I thought I needed it done by.

My brain just very quietly disengaged. I spent a bit of time playing games, reading a few old books for fun and not for reviewing. I mentally distanced myself from my work.

Without thought of procrastination, or even being aware that was exactly what I was doing, I just took a mental step away from “work”.

So, this morning when I work up that drive returned. Nothing in particular triggered it except my subconscious thought that it was time to “get back to work.” That thought stilled me in my tracks, halfway across the kitchen, coffee cup in hand, ready to start work at six am on a Saturday morning.

It wasn’t just a declaration of being ready to work, but mentally ready to start the grueling process of querying again, but this time with a script that has whole sections of my soul. It was to embark on new challenges including a course on developmental editing.

There is a deep sense of urgency in writing, a perception it has to be all now and that we have to keep trying every single day to get our one script, or many, out a proverbial door. Like sending kids to school, handing in a work project, finishing a season of sport.

And if you don’t “do it” in time, you’re going to miss some form of lucky boat. That if you don’t do it now, the opportunity might escape. You’ll be left wondering if that big break could have been you if you’d just sent that email a single day earlier. That you wrote a book so similar to one that’s big and only if you’d thought and written it sooner.

Telling yourself this is the kind of pressure I wanted to escape. The idea that my chance was wholly dependent on working myself into a mental breakdown. And I’ve been doing this long enough to know, subconsciously or not, when I need to take a break, to step away mentally for a few weeks.

To breathe.

And it feels good. So, give yourself the space, if you’re pushing yourself and finding it hard, maybe you do need some down time. Putting a hold an email for a couple of weeks isn’t going to rob you of anything; its going to save you from an inevitable break. There are still those chances out there and I believe if they are meant for you then they’ll still be there when you’re ready to come back to it.

Because if this process can take years, decades, then you can afford to sit down, have a cup of tea, and reread the book you’ve read a million times, that isn’t perfect, but you still love it. I know I do. Even when it’s my own.

Too Tired to Write

Text “EJDawson Blog Post” and a puppy asleep on carpet

I’ve seen several long time twitter accounts deactivate over the last few months, and a friend I thought I’d got back has just vanished entirely. Another person I know blocked me on twitter because no one was taking their script. They wouldn’t try/couldn’t bring themselves to write another, and when I tried to console them and explain that this process takes time, they got very angry with me for no other reason than I said it can take years.

So, if you’ve been with me a little while, if you’re getting very tired let me point out a couple of things to you.

THE PANDEMIC IS NOT OVER

We’ve been battling this for over a year, we’re getting the vaccine, but the world has changed. And this isn’t just a habit change. A habit change takes twelve weeks to adjust to in your mind, and that’s something like not putting salt on your food, or not drinking soda, or exercising.

I don’t have to tell you its trying, you know, everyone you know knows. You’re over it.

But we wont ever be quite the same as we were before. Normal is a place we may never be able to revisit. I saw someone say they just wanted to have dinner with a friend.

It might not be possible, but in some countries, you can start doing these things. You can meet just one friend nearby for coffee. Maybe you can’t travel but when was the last time you did something touristy in your hometown? It might be years, it might be boring, but right now not only could those places use the business, but it’s a nice visit down memory lane to things you haven’t done in years, if at all.

The pandemic isn’t over, but neither is the world. Being fatigued by that doesn’t make you less of a writer, just exhausted by all this, and it’s more okay than you’re probably giving yourself credit for. The fact you’re still here is amazing.

Now that’s out of the way, lets talk about writing journeys.

When you do it a long time, it gets tiring. And we’re tired already.

It’s recently enamored me of what I’ve seen called a “positivity” pass. As a writer, I’m used to assessing constant critique of my work; from dev editors, to beta readers, to readers themselves. Taking it all and learning and growing from it is fine, and no you don’t want someone to tell you an imperfect script is perfect (it will never be perfect, there are always things that can improve). But having a complete person just enjoy and point out strong points in a script are important to give you the drive to keep going.

I call them cookies when I talk about the assessment I give to manuscripts when beta reading/critiquing. I both love giving them and receiving them. It’s just a minor comment by the assessor to say; Oh wow, I love this bit!

Sometimes that’s all you need to keep going…

… because I’ve had people who’ve just stopped.

People I thought would be on this journey with me for years have thrown in the towel and meant it, and a lot of the time they never said a word. They just checked twitter every other day. We stopped DMing each other in giddy excitement over the latest story.

Because they knew, like me, that for all their excitement there is a mountain of work that would need to be done to query, submit, selfpublish, whatever their journey is, to make it good enough for a reader. And after a first, third, fourth book… you know the work beyond the joy of writing that’s in store for you so why start!

Those friends/acquaintances of mine that’ve vanished over the years have been replaced by others. Friends come and go, and so do people’s ability to endure the trials of the journey to publishing.

And that’s never to say they aren’t writers. They may come back to it, they may never return, but they are still writers.

My endurance for this industry has forced me to reassess my focus, and to that end I’m going to start writing and subbing short stories as something fun to do. And I am going to make it fun because I need to be able to weather the constant up and down hill journey of my writing career.

To make those long stretches of writing, editing, and polishing novels have upbeat moments of folly.

To enjoy not just crafting a great novel, but to fling myself at a different challenge I haven’t faced before that won’t impact me as strongly because its not a whole year’s worth of work.

Just one small story.

This might not be for you, but if you are tired of your writing journey, and a positivity pass or short stories aren’t going to cut it then what is?

How about offering to beta read a stranger’s book?

How about joining a writer’s group to find likeminded people?

How about stopping writing, and not starting again until you’ve read ten, fifty a HUNDRED books?

Whatever it takes to make you the you I knew before, the me who started this journey with no idea of how truly hard this would all become, but you wanted to do the hard work. To reinvigorate yourself for the writer that was always within you. Because, just like you, I don’t want to fade away, and I don’t want you to either.

Hard Lessons Learnt

As an ND person we’re used to doing stuff wrong and it’s a long journey but I wanted to share a blog post about things outside of writing that are still a big part of the writing journey. I’ve spoken before about meltdowns and editing as an ND author but there are other aspects that don’t get as much attention, and some will be a reiteration of those blog posts but I’m doing it because it’s important.

Because as an ND writer, there is stuff we see and here a thousand times and just don’t get.

That magical ‘click’ in our brain when we understand something that is almost and auditory sense for me has been amazing. Then there is some stuff I’ve done for years I still don’t entirely understand.

I’m sharing what I’ve learnt that if you’re ND you might like to know/be reassured of, and for those who aren’t ND a little glimpse as to what is going through the mind of your ND writerly friends.

  1. Not all Demons

Lets just start with the fact that within a lot of ND writers (but not all) is a host of ideas. Many ND authors I talk to have periods like any writer where they go through a void of idealessness, but many of the others I’ve met, and myself included, have so many ideas its hard to focus on ONE idea.

And that’s not a bad thing, despite the inherent frustrations. Which one should get the revisions and focus and editing done on it? Which one to query or publish? You could ask someone else, send out a few first chapters and get feedback is one way to start with a trusted CP, its how I got Behind the Veil in my first trad publishing story. But most of all go with your gut. The story that’s the most enjoyable to write, no matter the content, is the best use of your time, you’ll put more of yourself into it, and I think that’s a good thing.

  • Bad feed back

I’ve spoken about this one as part of my editing blog, but I wanted to come back to it. I’ve really struggled on how to take editing on my feedback since writing my first open ND book.

I’ve had an extraordinarily patient and understanding CP on that one, but I want to talk more specifically about the feedback in itself.

“I don’t get this”

Reading that particular piece of feedback is super hard when you know what you mean but you’re not able to rethink it over. You can walk away from the script and come back to it, but sometimes, your intent and meaning isn’t clear, no matter that it’s something you DO get and you love.

But if you intend on sharing with others, sometimes you do need to edit out that part, rewrite it, or even read it aloud to someone to describe what you are seeing or feeling about the text. There is usually a lightbulb moment of understanding with an NT person once you can open a discourse about it, so don’t be afraid to do that.

Also be used to being wrong. We all make mistakes. Its OK in this sphere to make a mistake. Go tell yourself that. Put it on the wall. Say it in the mirror. It’s OK to have mistakes.

  • Hyperfocus

It’s cool. It can be used to write thousands of words in a day. I think my best was 20k in one day. It wrung me dry for the next couple of days so I know my limit is 10k a day, but I love that I’m able to do it with relative ease. I love that we ND folk geared towards writing can make that happen.

It’s a two edged sword though.

I’ve met a few writers, myself included, who hyperfocus on one script. It’s our baby, our love, and the story we know is the one. The one that’ll get published, get acknowledged, get the awards, get on the NYT, everyone will love it, if they just knew how good it is!

I’m sorry, but no. No one script is going to do that. Your heart project may be too far out for a lot of agents. Chances are its also your first book so it may not be the best writing you can do. And that fucking hurts.

I’ve thought I’d written the best book ever and have people say its unpublishable garbage.

Please be ready for this, but please know that some of your best work may come from that same place but not be of it, or it can be revised into something submittable. But it is not all that defines who you are and what you can do.

  • Communication

I’ve edited this piece after a conversation today with a fellow ND author. We talk a lot about how ND authors struggle to communicate without talking about what that means on a social media platform.

I’ve deleted/misspoken on social media and some of its lashed back in my face really badly. I try not to delete tweets but I’ve found I’d rather do that than have someone misunderstand what I meant.

We can feel very viscerally strong about subjects/hills we will die on and for us it’s not just a statement, we feel the intent behind those words, those hard to hold feelings can rise within us without being overwhelming to the point we lash out. We can be angry, we can be sad, we can be vicious.

I don’t have a solution to these feelings, they’re true to who I am. But I try to stick to kindness or well meaning snark on social media because much of the world doesn’t want our rage or sadness, and sometimes I don’t want to share. Sometimes I do. The point is that you have to pick your moments for when they matter most, and be aware its not what everyone wants to hear. And they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms that you are wrong.

Every time you see those responses please be aware that those opinions are just that. Opinions. These people shouldn’t live inside your head rent free because you pay for it with guilt. You choose who you spend your emotional effort on, and it shouldn’t be on people who hurt you. When you find yourself feeling like this, ask yourself; what purpose does feeling like this help me? Can I change what was said or done?

Chances are the answer is no. So don’t. Easier said than done I know, but tell yourself, say it out loud. Or if you need someone to boss you around, ask yourself this; what would Ejay say if I tear myself apart in guilt from some random internet troll?

Not to do it? You fucking bet.

  • Other writers

ND authors… you ever get the feeling that all the NT writers know something you don’t?

Like there’s an unspoken manual that you never got a copy of and if you just read it things would make a lot more sense?

Yeah, it’s in the same place as the manual on life.

You’re only every going to find it through experience, stuff will still be missing, and coming to terms with that is hard. I remember being among a group of writers, and someone said something and everyone just nodded. I sat there and nodded too, gave a half smile of understanding.

I still to this day have no idea what the writer meant. To the point I don’t even remember exactly what it was that she said anymore. I go home and ask my husband and he’s usually a good grounding voice for stuff that’s off vs me just being paranoid. But this is going to be a lot like life in general.

We don’t get stuff, and that’s Ok.

I still haven’t got that click moment with the difference between “its” and “it’s” and nobody explain it to me because I’ve had just about every editor explain it to me and I don’t get it. I haven’t got a “click” moment. It is so minor, so small, such a little thing.

I DON’T GET IT.

I’ll get it, maybe, one day. They’ll be a moment. And I’ve come to learn during my writing journey that it’s a lot like a life journey. I let autocorrect take it, try to do my best, and hope I get that click but I don’t let it become the focus of the whole sentence or script.

This isn’t easy, we put a lot of ourselves out there for questioning without ever knowing what parts are tangled in our neurodiversity, and we should edit out because nobody wants that.

I’m here to tell you I want that. That you will always have that part of you that you think might be wrong, and you may be wrong, but making mistakes shouldn’t be about erasing yourself. That its OK that not all of this makes sense to you. There are things I’ve yet to experience I know I’m going to get wrong. That’s OK too. So are you – and I need you to know that. I need you to believe it, because some of the most amazing stories I’ve read are from minds that aren’t wired like anyone else.

I just want to read, and write, more from the twisted labyrinth of ND minds, even when we make mistakes.