Writing advice

Of writing and security blankets

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I am fresh back from the Be Love retreat run by Dr Joanna Martin and the wonderful women at One of Many. Two days examining love, not as an emotion or an action, but as a place to stand. A conscious choice to be love, not just to feel the hormone cocktail of attraction or do nice things for the people in your heart. What I learned could (and may yet) fill a whole category of blog posts…

There were many tears shed and many breakthroughs broken by all, with blood, sweat and yes, even more tears. At the end of it all, I wanted to share an “AHA” moment that I had during the evening session (led by the amazing Susie Heath).

Susie’s sessions are a glorious mix of dance, silent interactions and emotion. Each exercise is crafted to help you feel in your body what your head has been learning that day. Most powerful for me was the last: Susie stood in the middle of the room, a constant centre around which all the women orbited. As we danced, she spoke to us of all the adventures we could have, knowing she was there to look back to when we needed her. And in the middle, she gently dropped the words I didn’t know I needed to hear:

“Go write your book.”

I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for about a year now. My best flow was a three day streak, and even that required a vacation to Memphis for time, space and inspiration to magically align – not exactly a long term solution! But as Annie spoke those words, my brain filled with ideas and – even better – confidence. The tips and tricks I’ve been trying over the past twelve months pale in comparison to the flow I’ve achieved since this moment.

For many of us, writers block really is all in our head. A head game we play with ourselves where our inner critic is stronger than our joy in putting words on a page. What if I choose the wrong word? What if my characters are accidentally problematic? What if writing this novel destroys my finances, makes me homeless, drives away anyone and everyone I’ve ever loved and all I have to show for it is 60,000 terrible words about magical vikings???

What I remembered in that three minute dance is that writers are never really alone. We all have our security blankets – the fixed points of comfort we look to when we wobble on our paths to adventure.

Ritual

The right environment is often a great way to ease yourself into the right headspace. For me, that looks like a massive cup of tea, a scented candle and the perfect level of background noise. Some stories need music, the right melody to carry the words onto the page, where others beg for ambient sounds to conjure the right setting. One of my friends can only write in coffee shops, where people watching turns into story ideas turns into words on a page. Finding your own writing ritual may be a wonderful way to beat the block.

Friends and family

This can be a tricky one to get right – the ones you love may be too quick to love your words, and the nagging voice of doubt shouts a lot louder than their r praise at times. Equally, opening yourself up enough to share your writing only to have it shot down by your nearest and dearest is a form of torture I hope you never have to experience. Trust me, it hurts

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A vital team member…

So how do you find the right friends, the right family, to share your writing with? Start with those whose taste you admire. If you have a friend who gives consistently good book recommendations your trust in their judgement and shared tastes may make their feedback weigh a little more. Equally, if you are lucky enough to have writer friends, they could be the perfect partner to swap stories with. What starts as a group chat about fictional ice hockey players might lead to the perfect cheerleader, with pompoms galore and a listening ear when the plot bunnies bite! (Hi Ellyse!)

Writing groups

I plan to talk about my experiences with critique from writing groups in a later post, but they have their place in the confidence game too. Sometimes, there’s nothing like sitting in a room full of people who wrestle with plots on the regular to get your own feelings of flow going. I’ve had some wonderful moments where listening to someone talk through their own snarl has untangled one of my own. Just remember to keep your notepad handy to jot the memory down!

So now I’m turning it over to you – what security blankets have you found for the times when the words just won’t come or confidence fails?

And just in case you need to hear it: GO WRITE YOUR BOOK!

Book Recommendations

TOP 5: Diverse #OwnVoices Fantasy

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post! I was reminded in the comment section that diversity and representation in itself is wonderful, but it’s always important to boost the voices of people from those different communities.

Corinne Duyvis (author of ‘Otherbound’ and ‘On the Edge of Gone’) started the #OwnVoices hashtag on Twitter in 2015 as a way of highlighting books about diverse characters that are written by authors from the communities represented. It’s used to include writers who are (at least one of) the following identities:  people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, and other ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Whilst I believe that all writers, regardless of their background, should try to write more diversely, #OwnVoices authors can offer the deeper, more nuanced representation that people who share these identities are calling out for.

IMG_0523.jpgI’ve been lurking around the #ownvoices tag since I started my “year of reading widely” (AKA 2017) and I’ve discovered some treasures, from both authors who are gaining more traction this year and from self published or lesser known writers. After a request on tumblr, here is my first top five for the blog – FANTASY.

1. ‘The Second Mango’ by Shira Glassman

#OwnVoices cred  Shira Glassman describes herself on her blog as a “Queer Jewish Feminist” – need I say more?

What I loved… This is the first book in the Mangoverse series, and it holds a special place in my heart as the first time I ever read about a character who had similar dietary restrictions to me. Set in a fictionalised South Florida-esque world where everyone is Jewish and most are LGBTQIA (or shapeshifting dragons), they are both gripping plot wise and refreshing in their positivity. Fans of grimdark beware – these are not the novels for you!

“I want to give fairy tales to the girls who often get left out of them. I don’t like a world where we have to abandon our Jewishness or our queerness or our chronic illnesses in order to be make-believe queens and have adventures with warriors and dragons.”

– YA Interrobang Feature

2. ‘The Paper Menagerie’ by Ken Liu

#OwnVoices cred Born in Lanzhou, Gansu province (China) before moving to the states at age 11, Ken Liu both writes SFF short fiction and novels, and translates novels from Chinese authors (sidenote: when I get round to a Sci Fi list, Liu Cixin will be on there for sure!)

What I loved… ‘The Paper Menagerie’ is like a masterclass in short form fiction. There are award winning and nominated stories in the collection (including the titular story which was the only story so far to win the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy award), but my favourite is actually the first in the collection. ‘The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species’ is possibly more Sci Fi than fantasy, but it was crafted with such loving care, and it broke my heart just a little. Here is a man who knows (and loves) words.

3. ‘Down Among the Sticks and Bones’ by Seanan McGuire

#OwnVoices cred Seanan McGuire is LGBT (witness her demolishing biphobia in the tweet quoted below) and also has long term mobility/chronic pain issues. Basically, I’d like to be her if I ever grow up…

What I loved… Oh, everything. The concept: what happens to the children who go to “doorway” worlds (think Narnia, Wonderland, Never Never Land etc) when they eventually come back? The fluid prose, so beautiful it reads like poetry, but without unnecessary flourishes or obfuscation. The LGBTQIA+ representation! I was introduced to this book by one of my friendly local booksellers, who shouted “there’s an ace character like meeeeeeeeeeeeeee” in the middle of our Waterstones. I’ve never seen her that excited before or since!

“I am not a lesbian when I am with a woman. I am not straight when I am with a man. I am not asexual when I am with neither. I’m bi.”

@seananmcguire, Twitter

4. ‘Sorcerer to the Crown’ by Zen Cho

#OwnVoices cred Zen Cho is a Malaysian author (based in the UK) who writes speculative fiction that makes me weak. I’ve just got my hands on ‘The Terracotta Bride’ at last and I can’t wait to dive in.

What I loved… This novel deservedly won Cho the 2016 British Fantasy Society Award for Best Newcomer – the plot is incredible. She systematically dismantles the idea of whitewashing fantasy in the name of historical accuracy, with her Regency London setting and her main character (England’s first African Sorcerer Royal). Cho doesn’t pull any punches in describing the micro- (and not so micro) aggressions that come from being a person of colour in England, and that refreshing honesty kept me on the line of discomfort, re-examining the privilege I have as a white person living in the UK.

5. ‘Peter Darling’ by Austin Chant

#OwnVoices cred On his Goodreads bio, Austin Chant is described as a “queer, trans writer of romance and speculative fiction”. He also co-hosts ‘The Hopeless Romantic’, an amazing podcast on romance writing and LGBTQIA+ love stories.

What I loved… The new twist on a familiar tale. ‘Peter Darling’ is a reimagining of Peter Pan, where the boy who never wants to grow up is a trans man returning to Never Never Land after a long absence. Chant ratchets up the darkness already present in Peter Pan, reflecting the fact that Peter is now a man, not a child, and the coming of age is both beautifully written and morally fascinating. The world building is divine as well – what could have become staid after many tellings and retellings, are given a fresh new perspective thanks to Chant’s skill with words. It’s worth it for the fairies alone.


So there’s my top five #OwnVoices fantasy. I’d love to hear from you all with recommendations of your own and any thoughts you have on any of these books…