I’m A Writer, And It’s Time To Soldier On

743999b762023e24ec8c8912992be61eYears ago I saw a documentary on SAS training. During the interviews one soldier said when you feel like your body has given absolutely everything it has, you’ve actually only used 30% of its capabilities. That concept has stuck with me, reminding me that most battles are lost within the mind not the body and whenever I feel like I’m ready to give up, I quietly tell myself, I have another 70% to go.

This idea applies to so many things in life but when it comes to writing a novel, you really have to reach within yourself, pull out everything you have to give, and then some.

People often ask about the challenges an author faces. They’re curious about the daily hurdles, the hunt for inspiration and the motivation to continue working on the same project for years. It is hard but sometimes those three words aren’t enough to explain the enormity of the task. So I wanted to give you a snap shot. To show you the true magnitude of how deep we need to dig as authors to make it through some of those last obstacles.

I’m 2 years into my current writing project, The Ninth Hunter. And the truth is, this is the hardest book I’ve ever written. But it’s not the first time I’ve said those words and it certainly won’t be the last. Which is a good thing. It means I’m pushing myself, I’m learning and I’m getting better at this job every day. But momentum is everything in this craft and this is officially the longest time I’ve spent on one novel. Why? Mostly because of challenging and adapting life circumstances that couldn’t be avoided. All those hiccups dragged me away from the book and made it harder to keep my head in the game. And when you’re working slowly, your perspective warps and it’s easy to lose consistency with your characters and plot.

Despite the hardships, I powered through. Over two years, I submitted 24 chapters of this book to my writers group and received detailed critiques from lots of talented people. I went through their suggestions fortnightly and updated my novel every step of the way. I finally completely the draft. I read the book from start to finish and rewrote my female character. TWICE. I sent the book out to 6 beta readers. I evaluated their feedback and edited the book once more. Then I began my last edit. The final step, the search for spelling and grammar mistakes. The sense of completion drew near, and I was more than ready to let this book go. It had been a long journey, but I’d given everything I had.

Then I received final notes from a seventh beta reader and a couple of significant flaws were brought to my attention. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a crushing moment for me. Not because the feedback was harsh—it wasn’t. The review was honest and constructive but experiencing that shift from visible finish line to realising the marathon wasn’t over was a difficult moment.

At first, disappointment took over but within a few minutes I realised how grateful I was to have a friend tell me what was wrong with my book before I published it and got bad reviews. And I had no doubt in my mind where I would go from there. I didn’t work for 2 years only to ignore a problem and release work that could have been better. If I didn’t fix the flaws, all the time I’d already invested in this book would be wasted.

So today, I’m back at the writing desk. I thought I’d reached my limit but now the challenge has kicked in and I know I have another 70% to spare. Ultimately, this is what I love about writing. I love how it replicates life, throwing curve balls and forcing you to push yourself right to the edge. And to the seventh beta reader, if you’re reading this, you already know how grateful I am for your help. It’s too soon to say exactly how long it will take me to patch up the holes, but there’s no doubt this book will be better because of it. Thank you!

Writing Is A Journey. A Long One.

It’s my two year blogaversary and I’ve come one hell of a long way! I can see it in my books and I can see it in my blogs. So here’s to ever learning …

challenge-520x245If you look anywhere for tips on writing, ‘Learning to Accept Criticism’ is always listed in the top ten. It’s important for writers to understand the role of rejection, because there’s no way to avoid it. If you send your work to publishers, it’s going to be knocked back, if you let the public read it, there will be bad reviews. It is the nature of art, there is no perfect way to do it.

But handling the criticism doesn’t come naturally to writers, we’re often sensitive, thoughtful creatures who need to be handled with care. Everyone is different but I believe new writers in general are not ready to hear it. I wasn’t either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In order to make it through the thousands of words it takes to finish your manuscript, you need to believe you were born with a natural talent.

You’ve heard about writers being rejected countless times, you know how rare it is for someone to write a best seller first time round, but somewhere deep down, you think you could be one of them. That’s what gets you through. And when people are brave enough to tell you the truth about your book, you justify it in your own mind. They’re not my target audience, they don’t usually read, they aren’t familiar with the genre. Anything to convince yourself their feedback isn’t relevant, or they just didn’t see what you were trying to do.

It’s something we all have to go through. The tip isn’t, ‘Accept Criticism’, it’s ‘LEARN to Accept Criticism’. It takes time, and how ever long that may, be will vary from writer to writer. For a whole bunch of different reasons.

For me, I was afraid the criticism would stop me in my tracks. I didn’t want to hear it because I know I can take things to heart and I was worried the harsh truth would knock me right off my perch. I wrote four books and self published them, I set them free into the world. But the truth was I wasn’t ready to hear the bad news. Which is perfectly okay, the only way to get there is to experience it.

I took that terrifying first step, I revealed myself and all my flaws to the public.

And that’s the point in every writer’s life when they realise they’re not naturally blessed with the skills. They’re blessed with the inspiration and determination—the skills have to be learnt.

That realisation can take years. Only once you have poured your heart and soul into a story and moved on to write something new, can you really look back and see it for what it is. Time and distance shows you that your work is far from perfect. You did your very best, but you’ve learnt enough to understand what’s wrong with it.

And eventually, hearing someone point out your weaknesses is no longer so hard to hear. You know exactly what they’re talking about—you can see it yourself. You look at the standard of your work now, and see how far you’ve come. It’s still not perfect, but if someone points out the flaws, you think,  I’ve come so far in the past year, give it one more year and I’ll be even better at this.

It’s a journey. A long one.

I’ve been writing seriously for eight years now, and I can finally say I’m ready. I know my writing isn’t perfect, I mean really know, not just saying the words for the sake of it. The difference now, is that hearing the truth won’t stop me. I’ve realised I’m not defined by my work, but by my ability to learnt from it. I’m not afraid of publishers knocking me back, I won’t bother reading between the lines when someone says my work is good, completely lacking conviction. I can see it for what it is, and it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve graduated. I’m ready to call myself a real writer.

 

A Work In Progress

Life these days has been a little hectic, my writing time has been shrinking to a sad little one day a week affair. But I’m powering through it, I have a new novel in the works, and while it might take me a little longer to write it is coming along nicely. So here’s the opening chapter of my new ghost hunter story. It’s a little longer than my usual posts but if you’re curious about what goes on in my dark little writing hideaway (the outback caravan), have a read through and let me know what you think.

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“If you murder an innocent man you are responsible for the blood of his unborn descendants, and the weight of this responsibility is yours to carry til the end of time.”

 

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Chapter One

 

Daniel watched the rain weaving patterns on his windscreen. He closed his eyes and inhaled a sharp breath, everything was harder when it rained.  This house was out in the middle of nowhere and he was parked on a dirt path for lack of better options. He could only hope the rain was heavy enough to erase the tyre marks when he left.

Between the trees he could see the lights flashing as the girl moved from room to room—she had no idea he was outside or of the things he was going to do to her. It was better that way, she would be easier to sneak up on and her spectres would be unprepared for his attack. He unzipped his jacket and checked the tools were secure; the lock-pick, torch, mirror and a flick knife for back up. He pulled the black leather gloves over his slim fingers and unbuttoned the sheathed knife in his boot. There was no point waiting any longer, it wouldn’t get any easier.

 

Daniel released the door, the hinge locking halfway before he shoved it open and stepped into the winter wind. The mud squelched beneath his boots—he would need to check for those tracks on his way out too. He slipped quietly between the trees, ignoring the rain seeping into the neck of his jacket. It was dark outside, she probably wouldn’t see him sidling up to the windows but he paused anyway. She stood in the kitchen, her eyes cast on the pot as she stirred the contents and put it back in the oven. She appeared to be a few years younger than him—in her early twenties at most—her light hair tied back in a loose ponytail. It was the most relaxed he’d seen her. For a second it made him wonder if now was really the time, if it wasn’t exactly the right moment he had no way of knowing if he was doing the right thing. And he didn’t want to kill anyone who didn’t have to be killed, especially someone so young.

She started to head back to the lounge room, absentmindedly scratching her arm as she walked past the window. Suddenly her eyes widened and panic filled her expression. Daniel found he’d been holding his own breath until that moment, silently hoping he’d been wrong and he could turn back and leave her for another night. But this was it, she’d seen them: the ghosts in the reflection.

 

A glass had slipped from her hand and shattered on the tiles beneath her. She stood frozen for a moment before the spectres stepped back into the veil. Now she was probably trying to convince herself what she’d seen wasn’t real. She moved closer to the window and wiped her hand over the glass. Daniel retreated into the shadows but he guessed she was too scared to consider looking outside anyway. Deep down she would know the reflection she’d seen only moments ago wasn’t human. He watched as she tried to find it again, her eyes blinking rapidly in an effort to recreate the image.

But that wasn’t the way it worked. The spectres couldn’t be called upon by the damned, they came to them when they were least expecting it. Usually lurking in the mirrors until the victim was at their weakest. Their dark, twisted faces seeking them in windows and pools of water, building on their fear until they thought they were losing their mind.

It was Daniel’s job to stop the spectres gaining control, but there was no way to save the host, their life was already considered lost. This girl standing on the other side of the glass, her innocent features so tortured by fear—she was as good as dead—the best he could do was end her suffering.

 

The girl was busy trying to collect herself, Daniel moved round to the other side of the house where the lights were off. He walked until he found a room with hard flooring instead of carpet, the last thing he wanted was to leave muddy footprints for the police to find. The girl would still be in the kitchen, the spectres would leave her alone just long enough for her to think she’d imagined them. He took the time to scrape the mud from his boots before he unzipped his jacket for the lock-pick. He worked quickly and silently, feeling the latch drop to the side before he slid the door open. A rush of central heating blew into his face but nothing could ease the chill from his bones before he made a kill. The only way he knew to do it was as fast as possible so his conscience didn’t have time to catch up with him.

 

The sound of the TV streaming from the lounge room helped to mask the sound of his footsteps. He paused before he turned each corner, within minutes they would be face to face but he couldn’t afford to be surprised by her. Once she saw him her spectres would appear at the surface of the veil and that was his moment.

The ghosts could only be viewed indirectly until he was willing to move into the veil himself. Eventually he would have to but even a few seconds of studying them would give him an advantage once he slipped into their dark world. He pulled the mirror from his pocket and used it to scan the kitchen, the girl was gone and she’d taken her ghosts with her. She was most likely watching TV, trying to ignore that creeping feeling she wasn’t alone. Daniel switched the oven off as he passed it and reached the doorway of the lounge room.

There she was, straight backed on the couch, arms tight around her chest, her back to him as he used the mirror to watch her spectres. They moved faster now he had joined them, their ghostly arms trying to punch through the veil and enclose him. He could almost feel them gripping his throat as though they knew what he was here for. They would be screaming too even though he couldn’t hear them, he wasn’t the one who was damned, but the girl before him turned her head to the side as she listened. Just as the spectres couldn’t be seen directly they couldn’t be heard that way either. It was in echoes she would hear their ghostly taunts, they would be getting louder as Daniel’s presence angered them. Her shoulder’s tensed before she grabbed the remote for the TV and switched it off, in the darkness of the screen she saw another reflection, this time not just the spectres, but herself, and Daniel hovering just behind her.

 

She screamed and jumped from her seat, cheeks already pink with stress as she turned to face the man in black standing in her home. He held his hand out to make her pause, if she became too irate her spectres would be harder to fight. It was always a difficult choice to make—the more effort he put into calming her, the harder the kill would be. Her deep blue eyes filled with tears and what he saw in them weakened him. This was the first time he’d seen her up close, he hadn’t expected to be moved the way he was.

“It’s okay,” he whispered on impulse.

For a moment she looked as though she wanted to jump into his arms and beg for comfort. It just proved how much the spectres were already influencing her thoughts.

His expression must have held her back. “Are you here to hurt me?” her jaw was trembling so hard it looked like it might lock.

Daniel’s heart beat harder, he couldn’t afford to talk to her anymore. He lifted the mirror and held it to the side of her face, the spectres’ angry eyes flashed in the reflection so suddenly he couldn’t help reacting.

The girl turned to the mirror and she caught sight of her own ghosts once again. They were furious, their faces morphing together to form a grotesque image, a sight so frightening her knees weakened and dropped her to the ground.

Daniel pulled the bowie knife from his boot and the moment her spectres saw the weapon they found the strength to reach beyond the veil. That was the thing about ghosts of the living, they weren’t powerless like the ghosts of the dead. They slipped inside her one by one; her once innocent eyes immediately turning to fury. That image was just what he needed to finish the job.

 

Her hands stretched out like claws as she launched at him, her strength multiplied by the spectres inside her. She went straight for the knife, her delicate hand locking around the blade as her eyes seemed to draw him in. Daniel yanked the knife away, waiting for her blood to spill on the mahogany flooring, but her skin was left untouched. He paused a moment to make sense of it and that was exactly what they were expecting.

The girl jumped and hooked her arm around his neck, she was small but the force of it knocked his balance, he stumbled and bumped into a table, knocking the lamp to the floor. Her hand gripped the side of his face, her fingers digging so hard he was sure he must be bleeding. The spectres were stronger than he thought.

He threw his knife on the floor before she could take it from him, grabbing her arm and tipping her over his shoulder. She hit the ground with a thud but still it didn’t stop her. Her eyes were no longer a deep blue, they were a black abyss, the spectres using her life force to gain more power. There was only one way to destroy them. He held the mirror at arm’s length, using the reflection to watch the spectres moving inside her.

There were more than usual, at least five, all working together to manipulate her body. They were fast but once he moved into the veil everything would slow down. She snatched the mirror and smashed it against the floor boards, lifting a jagged piece to use as a weapon. Daniel took a step back, knowing it had to be now. If he didn’t go to the other side she would kill him.

He took a deep breath because once he crossed to the other side he wouldn’t be able to take another. His eyes shuddered closed as he concentrated on slowing his heart rate—within seconds the ghosts started to weave into his consciousness. Usually he spent all his time trying to block them but once he allowed the channel to open they would do the rest. Their hands reached out, their cries growing louder in his ears as they locked their icy cold fingers around his chest and pulled him through the veil.

 

His body felt numb, the atmosphere inside the veil was different, like it was just a dream. It was as though he was dead, his heart and lungs slowing to a dangerous pace as every shred of hope and happiness he once felt was stripped away from him. It was difficult for the body to adjust, his muscles contracted as the panic tried to take control of him.

The ghosts surrounded him, all their faces reflecting the girl he’d come to kill. They were her ghosts after all, created and sustained by her. They were attached to her life and that meant they were capable of influencing the world in dark and violent ways. But everything had a weakness and he knew theirs.

His presence inside the veil distracted them, their voices grew louder as they lashed at him, their ghostly tendrils wrapping around his body, making movement more difficult. Straining to escape them would do no good, what he wanted was to focus their attention so he could slip back to the other side before they had chance to realise his intentions.

He turned his head, the other side still visible through the veil. The girl was on the floor, her hair now messy and hanging in her eyes but he could tell by her posture the ghosts had left her.

Instead they were feeding on him, using their translucent hands to reach inside his body and take the energy they desired.

 

It didn’t take long for his body to droop, he was growing tired and the longer he spent here the harder it would be to get back. If he focused his attention on the physical needs of his body he could shake the veil, but he had to act quickly before the ghosts moved back to their host.

His lungs were starting to burn, in this world they didn’t need air but his mind still craved it. The more he thought about oxygen the more he wanted it, there was a stagnant feeling in his chest, a feeling he couldn’t bear any longer. The cold grip of the ghosts started to fade as he focused his mind. Daniel’s lungs fought back, heaving as though the sheer force of it would create the air he needed.

The haze over his eyes cleared, his body warming and stomach lurching as though he’d been dropped to his feet from a sickening height. The girl lifted her head the moment he returned to his body, her eyes glistened as she stared up at him for mercy but it was too late for that.

Daniel pulled the flick knife from his pocket and used his boot to pin her shoulder to the floor. She didn’t make a sound as he pressed the blade against her skin and drew it across her throat.

 

Blood seeped from the wound but he didn’t allow himself to take in the sight. Usually he reached only for his mirror to check the spectres had been destroyed—that’s how he knew his job was complete. But the mirror was broken into small pieces, the only one big enough to use was already covered in the girl’s blood and he knew better than to pick up soiled items. Her eyes were open and staring, the lifeless pupils surrounded once again by pure blue. Suddenly the house seemed too silent. He collected the bowie knife from the floor and secured it back in his boot.

There was a mirror on the wall, he stood in front of it and checked his face for scratches—there were red marks where she’d pressed against his cheek but the skin wasn’t broken. He used the reflection to check the body behind him. There were no auras moving around it, no spectres floating nearby, everything was still and there was nothing left to do but cover his tracks.

 

–*–

 

The first couple of hours after a kill always passed in a haze. He’d learnt to switch off the emotional thought process and focus on the job. For it was in the hurry to leave a site of murder that mistakes would be made. Instead he breathed deeply and calmly, spending time scouring the rooms for evidence and carefully removing anything that could place him at the crime scene. The rain outside had grown heavier, the mud thicker when he finally stepped out and relocked the door he’d entered. The footprints from earlier had already been washed away and after checking the sky he felt confident the weather would destroy all signs of his presence within minutes of leaving.

Rain gathered in the neck of his jacket, a steady stream flowing down his back as he turned his head to check amongst the trees. Goosebumps formed on his torso, the wind following the water and turning his skin to ice. But he was alone, he felt sure of it. The house was so remote there was little chance of anyone seeing him. Still he sat in his car for a long time, quietly observing his surroundings before he prepared to leave.

His hands were sweaty, he pulled his fingers free and slipped the gloves inside a paper bag. The adrenaline was wearing off and his hands were shaking. It wouldn’t be long before the flashbacks started.

 

Daniel drove a long way and as the distance grew his mental state started to change. He’d completed his job—the kill and the clean up—as a professional he’d succeeded. There was nothing left to focus on, no evidence to hide, no body to dispose of. Now he was just a man—a man who had committed murder.