A True Vacation From Writing Is Actually Hell

Life consists of writing or thinking about writing.jpgWhenever I finish a book, I feel like I’m bled dry. That’s it. I’m no longer a creative person. It’s gone away.

And I’m terrified of that possibility.

I spend a couple of weeks living my life without a project and this strange emptiness surrounds me. I become restless and irritable. I pray to the writing gods to give me something I can use and sometimes I can feel ideas trying to reach me but can’t quite catch them.

Perhaps each of those near collisions help to break down my wall, until finally, something clicks into place. And as soon as it hits, I know it’s my new book. Although just a fledgling, I can always tell when it’s the one. And that’s when my creative energy ignites.

The idea grows by the day – the characters coming to life bit by bit as I go about my daily routine. In those moments when everything else is still – when I’m out walking, or stuck at traffic lights, sometimes waiting for the kettle to boil or that surreal space in time just before I fall asleep – the idea is with me and I finally feel like I’ve found myself again.

It’s time for a new beginning.

The Making of The Ninth Hunter

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I’ve recently published my fifth novel. It’s no longer an idea, a dream, a goal or (and I hate to admit this) a frustration. It’s a book. I can hold it in my hand and flip through all those pages—the thousands of words neatly printed, side by side, barely representing the agony I went through to get them there.

Now that it’s over, I can finally sit back and congratulate myself for making it. Because until publication day—the finish line—everything else is just one tiny step in an impossible journey. And no matter how many times you’ve done it before, it doesn’t get easier. Of course, there are elements of certainty that only experience can bring. Like knowing you have the resilience to make it through the drafting phase and various edits, but with that experience also comes expectation. Because you’ve done it before, you expect yourself to do it faster, you want your characters to be stronger and your plot to be a thousand times more intriguing. But realistically, every book is different and they can’t be written the same way.

If I’d gone into this book with that in mind, perhaps I would have saved myself a lot of frustration. But if I’m being honest with myself, there’s truly no point working within your capabilities. How will you ever grow if you don’t stretch yourself?

Where it all began…

So back on June 6th 2013, I started working on my humble little ghost story. I’d recently fallen in love with ghost stories and plots that moved away from the mainstream concept. Like Anna Dressed in Blood and the Graveyard Queen Series. I took inspiration from those stories and set to work on my own book, using the well known concept of ghosts and twisting it into my own unique mythology.

I didn’t want to write about ghosts of dead people who linger around earth until their unfinished business is settled. What if instead, ghosts were an extension of the human psyche? Ghosts of the living, who have the power to manipulate and destroy human lives. Wouldn’t they be far more terrifying?

I wrote extensive notes about world building and really focused on creating a strong main character with an intriguing struggle. Daniel Barrow, a young man with a sad past, who’s evolved into a ruthless ghost hunter. I fell in love with the idea of a character who could be a complete badass and a competent killer, but who also has a unique vulnerability. He’s done terrible things but ultimately has good intentions, and he’s fighting for a noble cause.

Out of all the characters I’ve written, Daniel instantly became my favourite. Although I can’t directly relate to the horror of his past, I think we’ve all felt trapped by some element of our lives before. And while he accepts his dark fate, it’s his ongoing struggle for identity that really brings him to life.

When it got tough…

I’ve drafted novels in as little as four months before, but this book, this neat little package of pages, took a whopping 2.5 years from concept to publication. And to be honest, I truly resented the time it took while I was stuck in the middle. But now that I’m finally at the end, I can see that it took so long because it’s far more than one novel. It’s an entire education. I learnt so much in the process of creating this piece, from the fortnightly critiques from the ever inspiring Ellenbrook Writers Group, the seven beta readers who pulled this book apart and helped me glue it back together, the professional content editor and the TWELVE rounds of editing it took to get to the finished product. In the process of writing this book, I became a real writer, and there’s a whole team of people who supported the process. They know who they are, and I’ll never forget their lessons!

Aside from the technical elements of writing, I had a few personal speed bumps along the way too. And I can assure you, dealing with a complicated mythology is hard enough when you’re spending regular time working on it, but any extended breaks you have, make it virtually impossible to remember your place and they’re a huge step backwards! So add into the mix, a year of living packed to the rafters with five adults and a baby (let me add, it was a beautiful distraction to be surrounded by family and to watch my niece growing into a little lady), a house move and six months of hideous migraines, I lost my place time and time again and there were days where I really didn’t know how this book would ever be finished. But I slowed down and stopped expecting so much from myself. Gradually life got easier. I chipped away and I called in encouragement whenever I needed it. I finally finished this book and proved to myself that being passionate about something is always stronger than any obstacle.

The result…

The Ninth Hunter ebook cover

Before I started this book, writing had always been a solo venture, but thanks to my writers group, I’m now surrounded by a wonderful group of extremely talented authors. These amazing people taught me how to use the English language in ways I hadn’t thought of before, they allowed me to understand how readers really think, they encouraged me when I struggled and were hard on me when I needed to be shown the truth. They’ve made me tougher, and wiser and one billion times better at doing what I love. And six weeks post publication, the response to The Ninth Hunter has been overwhelmingly positive. Every time I read a review that talks fondly about Daniel and his struggle, I smile and think, that’s my struggle too.

 

Stranger than Fiction

 

1525482_588942477844429_1972120768_nI recently watched a movie called Stranger than Fiction. It’s about a man who can hear a voice narrating his life, as though he’s a character in a book. Seeing this idea in action made me realise how familiar the concept was. I live my life just like that, because I’m a writer, and we narrate on instinct. Our lives are always followed by a mysterious voice-over, because the characters in our stories are shaped by our day to day actions. They live with us, and the things they experience are extracts of our real lives.

That’s not to say every moment of every day is lived as a novel. Inside a writer’s mind, sometimes it is quiet, but the story can begin with the most simple catalyst. It could be lying in bed, shopping for groceries, walking the dog or driving the car. It might seem like a menial task, but somewhere inside the author’s imagination, there is a character doing that exact thing. Only their situation might not be as simple as ours.

A car ride might not be a trip home from work—it’s a killer fleeing the scene of a crime, a frightened girl on the way to an orphanage, or the last vehicle with a low fuel tank in the zombie apocalypse. The narrator kicks in, turning the mundane into something magical. The trees arch over the car, the storm clouds turn black with menace. Wind thrashes rain against the windscreen as the wipers creak. And suddenly this simple life becomes a beautiful book scene.

The narrator lays the groundwork in our minds, and sometimes in the car, middle of peak-hour traffic, you fill in the characters’ dialogue (yes I do this, and pretend I’m on a hands-free phone call). The narrator helps us pull pieces of the real world into our stories so our characters have more dimension. And sometimes it’s hard to break away from that imaginary place to face the real world once more. But this world we live in, is an amazing place for a writer, we’re never alone and the narrator can fill us with wonder at any turn. The whole thing might sound a little nuts, but I know all the writers out there will be nodding their heads. It’s just something we do.

Set your narrator free.

 

Authors Know How To Dream

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“You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true.” Richard Bach

 

People often refer to aspirations as dreams, you could certainly interpret Richard Bach’s quote to mean that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to but given Bach’s story I think he meant it in a more literal sense.

 

Richard Bach is an American writer who is most famous for his novella titled Jonathan Livingston Seagull, published in 1970. Bach began work on this story in the 1960’s, he wrote two chapters before he ran out of inspiration and set it aside. Eight years later he had a dream that enabled him to complete it and when it was published it hit the top of the New York Times Best Seller List, where it remained for 38 weeks!

 

When I was researching for this blog I found a long list of people who had achieved amazing things—all them inspired from a dream. Surprisingly the list isn’t just compiled of authors and creative types but also scientists and inventors. It was amazing to see such a variety of concepts brought to life from the act of sleeping. Stephen King once said you should use dreams the way you use mirrors—to look at something you can’t see head-on. Dreams allow us to look at things in ways we hadn’t imagined before. Maybe that’s why they have such a great impact on the creative world.

 

Some of the most well known dream-stories include; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Misery by Stephen King and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

 

Although no one is exactly sure why we dream or how it works we do know it plays a vital part in our digestion of life. We all know that dreams can reflect current issues in our lives but sometimes they are also filled with random and terrifying ideas that we are afraid to believe are our own. In some cases it allows us to tackle issues we wouldn’t normally think about and it opens our mind to new ideas. Clearly dreams are a resource all writers should be tapping into.

 

Luckily for me I had a bit of a dream obsession in my teenage years, I kept a dream journal for a couple of years and it trained me to remember them when I first woke up. It has been a long time since I’ve written one down but I usually remember at least one dream per night without putting in any conscious effort. So far I haven’t had one that inspired a storyline for a book, and no matter how much time and energy I put into my writing I have never dreamt of the characters in my books either. But I believe the potential is there, one day any one of us could have a dream that changes our lives.

 

The great thing about being a writer is you can make any dream come true, to finish Bach’s quote, “You may have to work for it, however.”

 

Writing Is My Drug …

writing is my drugThis morning I was reading Stephen King’s On writing – A Memoir of the Craft, which is an amazing book I’d love to share more detail on, but that’s another blog entirely. For today I’ll just focus on one aspect. He talks briefly about the idea put forward by many artists that creativity and mind altering substances go hand in hand. Stephen King himself suffered from addiction, first alcohol then drugs. At the time he was afraid that without them he would lose his ability to be creative, even though he started writing long before he started drinking. Once he’d overcome these addictions he realised it was a myth.

It made me think about the idea and how many musicians, writers, painters, etc. claim drugs enhance their creativity but I have to say in my mind it couldn’t be more opposite. I’m not going to get on my high-horse and say these people shouldn’t take drugs, it’s  a personal choice, if that’s what works for them that’s fine but ultimately Stephen King said it right. “Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because that’s what alkies are wired up to do.”

I don’t take drugs and I don’t drink but that’s not to say I haven’t in the past. In fact despite my current herbal tea, yoga and meditation ritual I used to be quite a party animal. The truth is: ever since writing became such an active part of my life I no longer feel the need to engage in any of that. I still socialise and go to parties, I dance and laugh—I absolutely know how to have a good time but getting wasted doesn’t tempt me in the slightest.

I certainly have never bordered near the extreme of alcoholic but I won’t lie, it used to be a means of escape. When I was unsure of myself and my mind was constantly racing I didn’t know what else to do with myself. Sometimes when I needed to relax there was nothing quite like a beer at the end of the day.  I guess it also enhanced social situations but in reality I do just fine without it. It’s just that writing has now substituted it completely. I no longer have thousands of thoughts and ideas trapped in my head, they have an outlet and the more creativity there is in my life the more balanced I feel.

The imagination is an amazing place, I don’t think it needs substances to make it richer. If you want to take drugs take drugs but don’t say you have to do it for the sake of your art. If you feel the inclination to be creative chances are it’s because your brain is built that way. Regardless of whether you take drugs or not it’s going to exist. If you’ve taught yourself you can only work when you’re under the influence then that’s probably what will happen. Take all of that away—the creativity still exists you just need to give it a chance to find its own way out.

“Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Amen Stephen King.

The Key To Creativity: Introversion vs Extraversion

I think there is a common misconception about extraverts and introverts, some people think extraverts are loud and outgoing while introverts are quiet and reserved. It’s true these are common manifestations of the two personality types but the true meaning … Continue reading