What should drive you?

I’ve written a couple of times about whether “you’re good enough” or “why you should write“, but perhaps more importantly… what should be your motivation? What should drive you to write? This will, of course, differ from person to person, but I think there’s a couple of things that should be common to all forms of motivation – regardless of whether you’re writing a book, making music, doing a sport, running a marathon, or just trying to lose weight.

And what are those ever important components of motivation? Courage and persistence.

Now, you’ll probably read this and think that courage isn’t really a driving factor – nobody does something because they want to be seen as courageous (well… I’m sure some people do, but this isn’t the point of this article). And the same goes for persistence – it’s common among people with strong drive, but i isn’t necessarily a driving factor in and of itself.

But therein lies the rub. You can’t have the success that you want without it.

This is the point I want to make in this article. As a write, I’ve spent a great deal of time worrying about bad reviews, negative feedback, or even holes in my stories. Only this morning I discovered a hole in one of my works that I hadn’t considered before. At first, I was mortified. But then I realised… it doesn’t necessarily matter. We all make mistakes. In fact, we are bound to make mistakes.

It’s getting back up – in the face of this perceived “danger” – that’s what matters.

Think about your favourite writer, artist, wrestler, whatever – it doesn’t matter who, as long as they have succeeded and are an inspiration to you. Whoever they are, they are at the top of their game. But they weren’t always. In fact, we often forget about (because we aren’t always privy to) everything it took for them to get here. When they first started out, they almost certainly stumbled. They were likely rejected. Ridiculed. They took their bumps, but they got back up.

Were they worried that perhaps they weren’t good enough? That perhaps they weren’t cut out for this? I’m absolutely sure they were. But they didn’t give up – they knew that this was who they were and this was what they wanted, and they didn’t give up.

The only people that make it are the ones that don’t give up.

Consider running a marathon. The road is long and hard, and many give up before they reach the end (although it should be said that some are unable to reach the end due to injury… but they are outside of the scope of this analogy). And for those that reach the end? The rest of the road fades into obscurity. Gone, but not forgotten (by the person, that is).

And for me? I’ve already given up running a marathon. That’s a goal I’m not likely to ever achieve, and I’m ok with that. That’s not who I want to be.

Now, there are outliers. There are extraordinary people among us that perhaps did not fail – they succeeded with their first novel, artwork, song, whatver. But these people are few and far between – it does not do you well to model your goals on their success. Some suceeded with a mixture of skill, luck, and damned good timing, while others are simply extraordinary. One in a billion. Neither is a likely outcome. Just saying…

The point is – none of us are really equipped to truly know if we will succeed. And the marketplace (for books at least) is so vast that initial “failure” is almost certainly guaranteed (depending on your idea of success and failure, of course). If you truly know that this is what you want for yourself, and that this is who you are – that you want to get your stories, art, whatever it is that you do out into the world – then you need to get on your feet and put it out there, and you need to expect to be knocked down.

And then you need to get back up and do it again.

And again.

And again.

Because it’s through courage – and persistence – that we reach the end of the marathon. Through courage, persistence, and vision, you get determination. And through determination and willpower, you’ll have a driving force that nothing can stop.

You got this. Never stop never stopping.

Is it ok to write for money?

Well… yeah, of course it is. I fact, there are plenty of copywriters, ghostwriters, journalists, etc., out there that write for money every damned day.

What I’m wanting to cover here, though, is — is it ok to write books for money? That is… should making money be the driving factor behind your desire to write, when writing is not currently your day job.

The answer to this isn’t so straightforward. On one hand, sure, it’s not a problem to write with the dream that you’ll become a bestseller and be able to quit your day job to focus on writing novels. If I’m honest, that is absolutely part of what drives me to write.

However, the simple truth is this — thousands of books are published on Amazon on a daily basis. In fact it’s been estimated that at least one book is published to Kindle Direct Publishing every minute. That’s a lot of competition. How exactly do you make your book stand out when it’s been buried by more than 100 other books in less than 2 hours?

The truth is, not many writers are lucky enough to make money from writing. Even the “good” indie writers that I follow on social media didn’t start making enough to quit their day job until they were more than 5 books in. In some cases, it took 10 to 20 releases before they took the plunge.

Of course, the problem is that the stories of only the lucky few rise to the top. Andy Weir self published The Martian, and now it’s been turned into a movie that smashed the box office. Christopher Paolini’s Eragon was “discovered” within years of self publishing, and then sold over a million copies in its first 6 months after being re-released. Amanda Hocking is well known as one of the first self-made millionaires from self publishing. Fifty Shades of Grey started via self publishing. The list goes on.

These stories make the dream seem real, and achievable — and although this kind of success actually is real and achievable, it hides the fact that these people worked hard to get what they did. Amanda Hocking’s novels were rejected by traditional publishing for years, so when she released her first novel and it did well, she had a whole lot more that she could also release, leading to great success with a whole lot of work upfront. Christopher Paolini toured the UK for a year actively putting the word out for his novel before it was discovered. Success is delivered on the foundations of hard work. There is no silver bullet. No “get rich quick” guide to self publishing.

On the flip side, I see a lot of writers out there on social media, sharing their ideals and stating that they simply write for the love of it and they don’t care who reads it. I can see the romanticism in such statements, and I respect the love of the art, but I also wonder what the point is. Sure, that’s not for me to ask, but it almost seems like a waste of time — all that writing, just for yourself. There’s a whole world out there that you could be experiencing, but you just want to live in your head… Again, I guess there’s nothing wring with that — provided it’s not at the expense of something critical.

For me, I want people to read what I have to say — that’s why I write it. Sure, I’m AFRAID of how people will respond, that’s just human nature… I have all kinds of fun thoughts that go through my head every time I write and release something into the world — am I a good writer? did what I wrote make sense? Is my writing too simple? Are people going to criticise it?

In the end, though, I can’t control people’s opinions. I can only control my work. So I do my best, I polish as much as I feel it needs (and can afford), and I release the best product I can upon the world. So far, the feedback has been great, but I know that one day I’ll hear from someone that doesn’t approve… and that’s fine. You can’t please everyone.

I’m also incredibly proud of my work. I like the stories I’ve come up with, and as simple as they appear at first glance, I put a lot of thought into themes, characters, and arcs. I often have something to say as a result of certain aspects of the story. Sometimes it’s cathartic. Sometimes it’s critical of the current status quo. Regardless, I put effort into my work, I’m proud of it, and I want it to be seen.

In fact, ideally I want it to be recognised.

So yes, a core driving factor behind my writing is a desire for my work to be noticed, and as a result, for it to make money. If I could quit my day job and focus on writing, then I would be a happy man. However, I’m currently a very small fish swimming in a very large ocean, so I need to be realistic. For now, I’m just happy there are people reading my book, and — hopefully — enjoying it.

TL;DR: you do you, friend. If you want to write for money, do it! But just know the likelihood of success is limited. And if you want to write for the love of it! Go for it — just not at the expense of anything else in your life that matters. If you can, though… perhaps aim for somewhere in between.

Burnout: it’s real, and it can affect anyone

In this blog, I’ve already talked about my thoughts on “writer’s block” in my article titled How to Write a Book. Today, however, I thought I’d address something else that’s bound to affect us all from time to time — and in this case, I’m not just talking about writers.

Burnout.

The first time I encountered burnout, it was in regards to a videogame (not the videogame series Burnout, which is awesome). For many, there comes a point where you love a game so much and for so long that… you just can’t play it anymore. You might still have goals within the game, and you might still love it, but you just can’t bring yourself to play it.

In those cases, often the best way to address the burnout is to play something else, and one day, the desire will (generally) return.

But true burnout is more than that. It’s when you use so much energy doing “things” that eventually it all catches up with you — the anxiety, the stress, the workload, the enrgy required… It just drains you. And it leaves you feeling low — possibly depressed, but definitely lacking in motivation, often accompanied by brain fog, a term used to describe an otherwise difficult to describe sensation in your brain. It kind of feels like there’s a cloud in your head, getting in the way, obscuring thoughts and memories.

In more serious cases, it can even lead to a nervous breakdown, but for years, a person might find themselves in this fugue state, not sure why, and not sure how to get out of it.

And that’s the strange part about burnout — it will leave you with low motivation and low energy, so you might find yourself just laying back and watching TV or YouTube and generally doing not much, but this lack of activity doesn’t refill your energy reserves. It’s a constant state of “low batteries”.

For me, it began a year or so ago (yes, that long ago). I was in a job that didn’t satisfy me (I have since moved into a more fulfilling role, but more on that later), and I had perhaps too many hobbies. For one, I loved videogames, and I absolutely wanted to play every damned one. Two, I loved one particular game so much (a game called Warframe) that I started a podcast with a friend, which became relatively popular, at least by my terms. Over three years of recording, this was a weekly commitment, occasionally more than once per week, and it took up a lot of my time — planning, recording, editing, posting. I tried making other podcasts during this time as well — I started a solo podcast about my love of horror, and a second one based on another videogame. These both died within a couple of months, as I just didn’t have the time or energy. If only I had noticed at this point.

When we were all thrust onto lockdown, I rediscovered a part of me that had been dormant since my adolescence. My desire to write. As a child, I wrote constantly. In my late teens, I continued this, working on several novels and several short stories, all of which were sadly lost to time and poor organisation. As I entered my early 20s, I got into drinking and socialising, and put writing behind me for the next 20 or so years…

But lockdown didn’t just prompt me to write, it also exacerbated the burnout process, by way of increased anxiety. Sure, I got a new job, but it came with increased responsibility, and lockdown itself imposed its own frustrations and stresses.

I realised I was really burning out at the start of 2021, and thought that perhaps reducing my responsibilities around the Warframe podcast might help. We dropped back to recording twice a month.

But this didn’t ease my symptoms. Not only did they continue, they got worse. In May this year, along with my co-host, I decided it was time to end the podcast for good, which will finally happen this week — and to be clear, I doexpect this will have a positive effect on my mental health.

The concern rose, though, when I stopped writing. The decision to cut back on the podcast earlier this year, followed not long after by the completion of my book, encouraged me to start writing something new. The decision to end the podcast encouraged me even further, and in June this year, I was writing 5000 words per day (which is quite a lot for someone who writes as a side project), across three book projects, one of which I was hoping to finish by the end of July.

In early July, I stopped writing, halfway through a chapter (which is strange for me, as I generally like to finish a chapter before I end a writing session). I haven’t been able to write since. That book I’d hoped to finish by the end of July? Half done.

Some may call this writer’s block, but I encourage all writers to look within themselves for their true feelings, because in this case I know it isn’t writer’s block. Every time I’ve encountered a block, it was due to me being confused about the direction the book was headed — I couldn’t write if I didn’t know what to write.

No, I know where each of the books I’m working on are headed — there is no one book that might be holding me back, let alone all three. The problem is that I want to write, but even the thought of writing instantly drains my energy. And there’s just nothing I can do to power through it.

And on the topic of videogames, in case you’re wondering, they barely hold my attention for more than 30 minutes these days.

Now keep in mind that I’m a realtively private fellow. I keep to myself, I do my work, and I don’t generally push myself beyond my limits, so I can tell you right now… I’m not working too hard. Thankfully, I’m able to put my energy into my day, job, but to date, that’s all I’ve been able to do.

However, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve done some soul searching, and I think I’ve figured out what it is that’s got its hooks in me, and I hope it can help someone else, hence the blog post.

Overstimulation.

There’s just too much noise — everything seems to be begging for my attention. Facebook, Twitter, my kids, family, YouTube, wrestling (I love pro wrestling, too), videogames, emails, my phone, Discord, and so on. The list is endless.

I discovered I was doing multiple things at once. There was no structure to my day, so I filled it with stimulation, because it felt like the right thing to do. Watch YouTube, check Twitter on my phone at the same time, and monitor Discord on a second screen. This is how we do it.

When I realised this, only 2 or 3 weeks ago now, I did a whole bunch of research. I already meditate often (which was another early alarm — meditation often didn’t help), but I wanted to understand meaning. Not just why are we here, but why am I here? What’s the point? I fell down a YouTube rabbithole.

And it really helped. I understood that I was constantly anxious because I constantly had the idea in the back of my mind that there must be something I should be doing… So I kept myself busy. And I kept myself busy while I was being busy. Take that, world.

I realised that, on a given day, there was really nothing I actually needed to do beyond food, water, basic hygeine, and looking after my kids. Seriously – nothing. Not even work. Nothing truly matters in the grand scheme of things.

This was a really feeing thought. It helped me to note that there shouldn’t be any thoughts of anxiety around what I should be doing, provided my basic needs as a human were met. It also clarified that in order for me to feel fulfilled, I needed to plan out my day — not overly structured, but just what I wanted to achieve, and when.

And when the time came to do that thing, I should be present for that thing, and only focus on that thing, because I now knew that there was nothing else I needed to be doing at that time.

As a result, I significantly cut down on phone and computer time, and I managed to put reading back in my day. I found time to exercise (I used to feel “too busy” for exercise), time to meditate, and time to do each of the things I wanted to do.

And I have to say — the brain fog has lifted. I feel better and less stressed. I’m getting things done. I’m not quite ready to start writing, but I feel like that point is just around the corner. My energy is returning.

The simple fact that I actually wrote this article is testament to the fact that something within me has changed.

I’m far from 100%, but I’ve already noticed a marked improvement in my mood, my performance in my day job, brain fog, and just overall happiness. So I must be on to a good thing.

And this weekend (or perhaps next weekend), I will be finished with my podcast (a bittersweet feeling, as I did love it for so long, but that project has run its course), which will absolutely be a huge weight off my shoulders.

I wanted to share this for two reasons — one was for my own catharsis. If I do this, then clearly I’m on the mend. But the main reason is simple: burnout is real, and right now due to the COVID pandemic, it’s more real than ever. In fact, many of us are likely suffering unknowingly. I had to share, because I really feel there might be folk out there that are suffering silently, and not sure why. And perhaps I can help.

Think about what you want to do on each day to make you happy — the minimum things you want to achieve on that day in order to be satisfied. Keep them simple, keep them structured, and do them. It might be to clean the kitchen. Write 1000 words. Meditate for 10 minutes. Wash the car. Wash the dog. Play a game with one of your kids — anything. And make special note in your mind that, apart from those specific things, there’s nothing else you need to do that day — so don’t stress. And don’t feel like you need to pull your phone out during lunch. Experience that time for what it is. Reduce the stimulation, and feel the change.

It worked for me.

How to write a book

Writing a book is easy — as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. Start writing
  2. Don’t stop
  3. Finish when the book is done

OK, maybe that’s a bit facetious. However, when all is said and done, it’s accurate. I’ve said it before — writing a book is easy, provided you don’t stop. Of course, that also makes it pretty hard.

But I guess I still get confused when people ask “how” to write a book. I mean, what is it that they want to know? If they don’t know how to write, perhaps a book is not for them.

So what is it that people want to know? How to plan? How much to write per day? Where to write? What to do with ideas? In reality, it’s probably all of this, plus more.

In the end, though, it all comes down to one thing — a book isn’t a book until the damned thing is actually finished. Then, and only then, you can say you’ve written a book. Even if you don’t publish it.

But not if you don’t finish it.

So the basic premise is this. Choose the idea you want to write about. Develop it a little — create some characters, give them a reason to exist, and a reason to be doing whatever it is they are doing in the book. Think of the overall story arc, and how that affects the character arcs within. Try to avoid planning a massive series because, well, you haven’t even written a book yet, how do you think you are going to write FIVE (although yes, some people have)?

Once you’re happy with your idea, and you have a reasonable understanding of where to start and where to go… then start writing, and don’t stop until it’s done. And don’t be distracted by other ideas — even (or perhaps especially?) if they seem like a better idea. Is it really a better idea than the one you spent time to develop and create story arcs for? Really?

There will be times when you will stop. Some people call this “writer’s block”, mostly because the term has been romanticised by time. It could be due to a number of reasons, from as simple as being busy — or even just lazy! — to more complex reasons, like burnout (a real thing, trust me). However, I find the general cause of my “writer’s block” is simply coming to a point in the story where I am confused on the direction. I don’t know where the story is headed, so I don’t know where to start.

Part of that is my problem — I’m one of those pesky planners, you see. Others would just suggest you write and see what happens. But that’s not me… Usually, I wait until I have that epiphany (often in the shower), where the story progression suddenly comes to me. Then I smash out five or six chapters in a row.

If that’s not the problem? Then, for me, it’s usually burnout. Time heals.

In the end, we are all different. How to write will differ from person to person, but the point is to write. And (I know I’m sounding like a broken record here) to not stop until it’s done.

And guess what? Where to wite doesn’t matter. What you write on doesn’t matter. You want to write by hand? Go for it (but keep in mind you’ll have to type it up at some point, so you may as well just bite the bullet and join us here in the future already). You like old school type writers? Have at it! Whether you write in a dark room, or a cafe, or deep in a forest surrounded by cheerful creatures whistling Disney tunes at you — it’s up to you. Wherever you can write is the place where you should write.

If there’s one thing that should be shining through in all of my advice, it’s that it’s all up to you. There is no golden guide to writing a book. There is no recommended method that will lead to a best seller — it’s all on you, and your ability to write a compelling story.

So if someone tells you that you absolutely have to sit in a log cabin out in the woods, listen to Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto, drink top shelf whiskey and eat only foods foraged from the forest, all while writing by hand using a Quill that you acquire yourself from a forest-dwelling bird? Don’t listen. Write on an old laptop opn the floor in your undies, if you want, surrounded by Cheetos and empty bottles of Mountain Dew. Whatever it takes.

Just write.

How often should I write?

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? The question on every new writer’s lips: how much should I write per month, per week, per day…?

It’s a question that arises out of a lack of experience, and a lack of true confidence, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things — they’re perfectly natural. But the sad truth is… there’s no “one size fits all” answer. And there shouldn’t be.

Here’s why.

It’s a simple one: we’re all different. Do what you can. Write what you can. Aim to finish your book. No matter how long it takes, if you actually finish it, you’ll have achieved what millions of others have failed. Be proud.

Of course, it’s not always as simple as that, even though it probably should be. Age eventually becomes a factor. Your goals will be a factor. Your job will be a factor.

For example, if you want to be a full-time writer, making effectively the same as what you might earn working for somebody else, then you want many good quality books on the market (and I stress good quality, because it’s hard enough to sell books — if you want to do this full time, you need quality, just like every other job). The more you have available, the more you will make per month. More books will see return readers. More books in a series will see multiple purchases. And so on. Not to mention the fact that multiple titles indicates to a reader that you aren’t just a fly-by-night hobbyist.

And no, being a hobbyist isn’t a bad thing, but if you think that readers aren’t that petty, then you are sorely mistaken (not all, but many).

And if you are a hobbyist (and I expect many first time writers are, even if they don’t think they are — the future is bright, but it’s still just the future), then it’s really up to you… and how much time you have one your hands… and perhaps even more importantly, how much you want to write.

If you take the advice of the pros out there, you’ll hear that golden target thrown about — aim for 1000 words per day. I’ve heard it from many, and I also find many new writers try to align themselves with it, but let me tell you — it’s hard.

Scratch that. It’s not hard to write 1000 words. In fact, I tend to write 2-3000 every time I find time to write, but that’s the point… It’s hard to find the time to write. It’s hard to always be motivated. It’s… just hard.

And the pros will tell you to just write. Even when you aren’t motivated, just write.

That’s fair enough advice if it’s your livelihood, but when it’s a hobby, don’t take that advice as gospel. It’ll only drag you down when you inevitably fail. (And if you are a full-time writer, my advice is probably not what you should be looking for.)

Some writers out there aim to write “anything” per day. Even 100 words is a success. Kudos to them for that idea, but it doesn’t work for me. I feel bad if I don’t knock out a chapter every time I write, as I feel as if I leave the scene unfinished. That’s a “me” problem, I know. Scenes can be revamped and expanded (even deleted in full) during the editing process, so I shouldn’t be that precious, but I am.

Truth be told, though… I do subscribe to the “aim for 1000 words per day” mantra. But only as a personal target, and I don’t beat myself up when I miss it… which is realistically 75% of the time. The point is, I don’t stop at 1000. I use the target as a method to get me writing, and when I do, I knock out two or three days worth of writing in one go. Sometimes several days in a row. And that’s a massive boost to confidence. I just don’t let those off days get me down — in the end, it’s just a delay on the end product.

And that’s the kicker. Don’t sweat the days unless it helps you stay on target. My goal for my current sci-fi is 100,000 words. My Japan travel guide, maybe 60-70,000. And for my episodic novel, I’d like to knock out 20 chapters before I look to proceed. At the moment, I’m a third of the way to my sci-fi target, halfway towards the travel guide, and… a long way off the episodic novel.

At 1000 words per day, I could be on top of my sci-fi in 2-3 months, or finished my Japan guide within a single month. These kinds of goals are the ones I find give me more traction. If I work hard, I can have two books finished by the end of this year, both ready to go through editing, beta reading, and so on, with a target of mid-next year for release. That’s pretty good. If I stay on target. And even better? By the end of the year, I can also possibly release my episodic novel, which will be ongoing, targetting a chapter a week (big task, I know, but that’s why I want to get 20 chapters ahead before I start).

So in the end, you need to set your own goals. Goals that mean something to you, but goals that can be flexible. That’s the key part — if you fall behind, you can’t spend your time beating yourself up, you need to readjust your goals and keep pushing.

So, even if that means you still want to target 1000 words per day, or 5 chapters a month, or a book in 6 months, or however you want to do it — make it work for you, and make it realistic. Sure, you could write a 90,000 word book in les than 3 months, but will you, really?

Be honest to yourself, and you’ll hit your targets. Hitting targets keeps you going. Don’t set yourself up to fail.

Anyone can write a book!

As a self-published author, you’ll inevitably come up against this from time to time. When you share your pride at having written and released a novel, some people just can’t let you have a win. “Oh, you’re self published? Anyone can do that.”

Cue jaw drop. Allow blood to boil before simmering.

The problem is — it’s true. Anyone CAN write a book. But my ready response when this comes up (and thankfully it’s not often… it’s just those really cynical self-loathing people that hate the world) is – “Really? Where’s yours then?”

The sad truth is, however, that there is a large amount of low quality self published books on Kindle. Books that were self edited (a cardinal sin, I’m sorry to say). Books that did not go through a beta review or developmental process. Books that are poorly formatted. Books with covers designed using free tools and stock images.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am aware that not everybody can afford to pay for some of this work, and some writers have a very frugal budget, but the point is, the amount of brilliant writers out there that don’t need all of this extra polish is probably close to zero. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of great books out there with cheaply designed covers, because I know there are. But the sheer number of truly amateur books outweighs… well, everything else available on the market.

Is this a problem? In some ways, no. Amateur writers deserve to be able to share their work as much as anybody else. More than that, even though I did choose to pay for editing, typesetting, and a professionally designed cover, I’m still somewhat of an amateur writer myself. I’m no better than anybody else, I just had more money.

But the question remains… SHOULD anyone be able to write a book?

There are some strangely confident people out there in several of the writers groups that I’m in, who can barely string a sentence together, yet they somehow have written 10 books. Some of these have barely sold any copies, and are priced well above the market (eBooks at $10 USD, for example). Some have excerpts that are difficult to read due to poor sentence structure and strange word choices. Should these people be able to write a book? CAN anybody really write a book?

It’s a complex topic, but if I boil down the idea of a book to simply sharing a story, then yes, anybody can write a book, and anybody SHOULD be able to write a book. There is room in the marketplace for people of all skill levels to do their best – and the market will decide.

Who are we to judge the quality of anybody’s book, simply based on their writing? Even Stephen King’s books are edited (although I’m quite sure his output is already quite highly polished even before editing). If that person was able to make a few dollars from their books, and influence even one person, then perhaps that’s a success.

The selfish side of this argument, though, is that these lower quality releases dilute the market significantly. It’s much harder for those that put in the effort to polish as best they can to even be noticed. And the sheer quantity of lower quality titles available perpetuates the stereotype that all self-published books are low quality.

As a new writer myself, and one that put a lot of time, money, and effort into polishing my book… I feel this way quite often. I blame others for slow sales and so on. I occasionally feel resentful at other writers’ successes. I’m only human.

But the reality is… 15 years ago, what I did was impossible. Unheard of. What the Internet has allowed us to do — in various ways, not just for writers — is amazing. Anybody can release music now, and make it available to the world via streaming services. Anybody can make their own video, and put that up online for people to view via YouTube. And anybody can write a book.

And the harsh fact is — that’s the way it should be. If I wanted to, I could open a restaurant. If the food was poor, nobody would eat there. If it was amazing, then I’d be booked for months in advance. It’s the market that decides.

So, like anything else, don’t sweat the competition. If you want to succeed, then write the best damned book you can, and do your best to market it. Then write another, and another, and another. If you really do a good job, you will find a market, even if it’s small.

And those smartasses that tell you “anybody can write a book”? Sure, that’s true, but YOU did, and THEY didn’t. So there.

Ideas: Not as Rare as You Think

You know who has ideas? Everybody. Every damned day.

Many writers tend to put a huge amount of emphasis on their ideas. They carry little notebooks with them everywhere. They sleep with a notebook beside the bed. I mean — what if you have an amazing idea and you forget to write it down? Shock, horror!

Personally, I’ve done this many times. Woken at night and had a great idea, and expected I’d remember it in the morning. Of course, come morning, it was gone. Ah well, no harm, no foul.

The truth is, ideas are a dime a dozen, and they aren’t great ideas until you do something with them. I wonder how many people reading this have had wonderful ideas that they’ve held on to over the years? Ideas are nothing if they aren’t utilised.

The other thing is… do you really have an original idea? Whether you do or you don’t doesn’t matter in the end — even if your idea roughly amounts to the same basic premise as Romeo and Juliet, this time it’s you that’s telling the story, with your emotions, your feelings, your preferences, your locations, and your characters. Whatever you do, it will be yours, and you should be proud.

So don’t sit on your ideas waiting for something original — it may never come. And even if it does, certain aspects will most definitely be derivative. The world is too old, and the amount of works too vast for any one idea to be wholly original, so let it go.

You know what makes a really great idea? Development. No idea starts out perfect, it takes time to work an idea into something better. You’ll know you have a truly good idea when you want to start developing it further. And once you do? Write that damned book.

Tell your story, otherwise your idea is just that. An idea. And nothing more.

Planning my second book

So… here I am, not long after writing an article about the whole stupid “plotters versus pantsers” debate… writing an article about how to plan (again). I like to plan in advance, and if you think you might too, then this is for you. If you’re a plotter, feel free to read and see what us wacky plotters do. But per the spirit of my previous article – just do what works for you!

You may also have seen my article about how I planned my first book – I recommend reading that, too. It has a much simpler method than I employed for the second novel, so if you aren’t looking for something complex, you might want to start there.

Why didn’t I use the same process, you may ask? For two reasons, really. One, that method was useful for planning a simple story with a few main characters and a single story arc, and this time I wanted something on the grander side of the scale. In short, I knew this method wasn’t helpful in terms of world building. And secondly… because it was the first process I used, one that was very simple for the needs of a beginner, but I knew it wasn’t likely what I needed (personally) to get me where I wanted to go with this new novel.

Where did I start?

At first, I started with some very general notes on Google Docs – genre, a couple of little ideas about where I wanted to take things. As you may be aware, I’m writing a sci-fi novel at the moment, but I didn’t want it to be too epic. If you’ve read Pyramidion, you know I write a fast-paced story, and I wanted this one to feel similar, but follow the story arcs of 3 or 4 main characters. As a result, I didn’t want too many crazy new alien factions and so on getting in the way of the action.

And then? Then I watched a series of lectures by Brandon Sanderson. They are long, and Brandon Sanderson very much teaches his methods, but I found them very useful for working out how to write better characters and better stories. Here’s a link to the first one. There are 11 in total, plus Sanderson has a bunch of other videos on his YouTube channel that you might find interesting.

Anyway, I used a method of his referring to “promises and payoffs” – the story needs to make promises in its subtext. There needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. And there needs to be progress towards those promises – major progression events that let the player know that the story is moving in a direction. And it all needs to pay off in the end – you need to keep your promises.

This also applies to the characters – they need to have some personal connection to the plot; they need to make their own progression or journey along the way; and something about them needs to change. This could mean they learn something as the plot progresses, or something more grand. But more importantly? They need to be likeable… and that’s the hard part.

Using all of this basic plotting structure, I came up with the skeleton of what my final story will be (and note that I’m still only about 25% into writing the novel, so there’s still a lot that is missing from my plans). using that plot structure, I then decided on who my main characters would be, as well as any other important characters that might influence this storyline. I gave them each their own story and basic background… and then I jumped into the worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding… where to even start?

Ok, I need to preface this section – this is written by someone very new to worldbuilding, and is intended as a reference for others that are also new to worldbuilding. I am not an established builder of worlds. What I say now may embarrass me in years to come, but so be it. We all have to start somewhere.

And considering I’ll still be using Brandon Sanderson’s advice, it’s probably still useful. Again – watch his lectures. You don’t have to follow them word-for-word, but it will absolutely help. Especially if you are new to writing.

Anyway – worldbuilding. Given you need to create a whole new world, it can be quite complex, but the biggest takeaway I had from Sanderson’s lecture was this – if something isn’t going to have any real impact on your story, you don’t need to build it in advance. He suggested making a list – and I’ve copied it below for your reference – and then choosing a few that might matter to your story and working on them.

PhysicalCultural
RacesGender Roles
WeatherReligion
TechtonicsGovernment
MapEconomics
FloraBorder
FaunaFashion
MagicFood Lore
VisualsHistory
CosmologyRites of Passage
TerrainSocial Heirarchy
Languages
Taboos
Military
Greetings/Curses

For my current novel, I only focused on two in the physical realm (races and terrain) and about seven in the cultural, as this is where my story differs most from the “norm” (gender roles, religion, economics, history, social heirarchy, languages. and military). I fleshed some of these out briefly, but others – history, for example – I went into great detail around. The main point – don’t try to do everything or you’ll never finish. Remember: never stop never stopping.

Where to from here?

This was far from the end, of course. Being a sci-fi novel, I had planned my story to play out over multiple planets, so I needed to create some minor worldbuilding for each of them as well, and then I needed to work on what I strangely found to be the most difficult.

Naming.

Naming characters in a fantasy or sci-fi novel can be hard. I use a few methods – history and meanings of names in various regions, and websites such as Fantasy Name Generators and Behind the Name. These are both quite useful for different reasons and I recommend you check them both out.

Oh, there’s another difficult component of books with multiple characters… timing! How do you plot things that happen in your story and keep track of them? How do you plan the chapter order so that you have the right things happening at the right time – and with the intended effect on the reader?

This took me some time to figure out, and in the end I developed something myself, which actually works really well. Using a spreadsheet, I plot the time in arbitrary units along the columns, and the individual characters along the rows. In each cell, I describe what happens in one or two words (“Introduction” for example or “Conflict”, “Moon”, and so on – words that have meaning to me in context of the story and the character arc, but don’t take up too much space in the table.

It ends up something like this:

12345
Character 1 (C1)IntroEscapeSpaceshipConcern
Character 2 (C2)IntroMeeting
Character 3 (C3)IntroFearConflict

And then I plan out my chapters in order of time, but avoiding two chapters with the same character sequentially – C1-1, C2-2, C1-2, C3-3… and so on. I actually map this out below the table in the spreadsheet, with chapter numbers as this helps me visualise things better (and I use the character’s name so it’s less confusing – John1, Jane2, John 2, and so on). It also allowed me to split the story into three parts as I could visualise what happens and when, which makes sense from what happens in the story and helped me break things down further. Very useful for me, but your mileage may vary. (And note the info I’ve put in that example has nothing to do with my current story.)

To be honest, every chapter I write tends to see me adding more notes to my plan – I flesh something out in the story which adds to the worldbuilding, and I feel I need to keep it all together in one place, or I’ll lose it in the story. Or I’ll just think of a great new idea throughout the day. Or I’ll create a cool new character as I write. The worldbuilding doesn’t stop.. probably until the book is done.

Also… much of the middle section of my story is missing – I know where the story goes, and I know some of the set pieces required to get there, but exactly how and when that happens? Still to be confirmed. But that timeline/spreadsheet? That will help immensely.


So there you go! My current method for planning my second novel, which is going to be considerably more complex than my first, but written with the same pacing. In truth, I still think this second novel is quite simple as compared to many sci-fi and fantasy novels that I’ve read, but I definitely need all of this panning in order for it all to make sense. To be honest, I don’t know how others could write something like this without planning ahead. Smarter than me, I guess.

And I’m actually planning on writing a LitRPG at some point, which will be FAR more complex. So… we’ll see how things go with this method, but so far, so good! And if you don’t know what LitRPG is… go look it up. It’s fascinating.

Good luck! I hope this has been useful!

The “Plotter vs Pantser” debate is silly

If you’ve been hanging around writer circles for a while, you’ve probably heard the topic come up – “which are you, Plotter or Pantser?” My answer is, invariably, it doesn’t matter. But before I get to that – and to why I find the whole damned topic infuriating – perhaps some definitions are required.

A “Plotter” is a writer that plots their story in advance. Not necessarily painstakingly or meticulously – they just sit down and plan things out before taking their ideas and developing them into the story at large.

A “Pantser” on the other hand (and to be honest, I just hate the term – I must be getting old) is the type of writer that writes by the seat of their pants. No plotting, no thinking about things in advance, just get in there and let the story play out as it will. Put romantically – let the characters speak for themselves.

For many, the debate is not just about “which one are you” but also “which one is better”… which is the right way to write. And that’s just stupid – and for new writers, it’s downright confusing. And perhaps even harmful.

Think about it – virtually every new writer that I’ve seen asking questions in writing circles will inevitably ask this question – how do I write a book? How much should I plan? How do you develop characters? And sadly, the most common response from writers is to use the “Plotter vs Pantser” response – “You’re either one or the other! Which one are you?”

What should the real response be, though? When it all boils down, writing isn’t hard. The concept is simple – take the words in your brain, and put them down on paper, either physical or digital. That’s it. How you choose to organise them is up to you – and there are a number of different ways to do this. The problem isn’t whether Plotting is too much of a waste of time or Pantsing is too risky, it’s working out what works for you.

Plotting can be great – it can help a writer develop a highly complex story. And Pantsing can be great, too – it can surprise even the writer, potentially making for an even more exciting read. But focusing on one or the other is just as detrimental – just write.

To me, the whole argument is less one of actually helping others, and more one of individuals trying to associate themselves with a clique – or potentially even a favourite writer. The amount of times I’ve seen a Pantser justify their preferred method by stating “Stephen King is a Pantser” is ridiculous.

Good for Stephen King. He’s clearly a genius. But I’m sure his drafts are extensive – I highly doubt the complexity of his books comes out in the first draft. The other thing, though? I’m not Stephen King. And on the Plotter side? I’m not J.K Rowling either. And I don’t want to be.

If I had to chose a side (and I really don’t want to, but here we are), I’d have to say that I’m probably a Plotter. But even then, I only plot so much – there is a lot that surprises me as part of the writing process, and some of the ideas that have cropped up “from the seat of my pants” (so to speak) have been good enough to warrant a change to the planned plot.

And I’d also argue that Stephen King thinks about his books a LOT while he writes them. He may not have a plot on paper, but I’d bet he has one in mind.

What makes writing hard isn’t so much the process, though, it’s the “finishing” part, in my opinion at least. Like I said in a previous post – never stop never stopping. Don’t let the plotting process slow you down so much that you never actually start writing the book. Don’t let it get in the way so badly that you have several other ideas, and you neglect this one to work on others. Don’t let the lack of a plot and a sense of direction for your novel allow you to suffer from writer’s block. Write that book until it is done.

I understand that the “Plotter vs Pantser” argument is just a bit of fun for writers, and perhaps I’m just a bit of a curmudgeon. My own personal gripes aside (that being that I think the argument is childish and an attempt to associate with one’s heroes), I think it’s harmful and confusing to new writers. I believe one famous writer even stated that Plotters are “hacks”. How lovely. That’s one way of suggesting that you’re better than everyone else (and I know I’m far from a great writer, but damn… let other people be proud of their work).

Again – I may just be a grumpy old man (or an old man in a younger man’s body, perhaps – I’m not old! Promise!), but my point is this, and always this – find your own path. Don’t let anybody steer you wrong. And FINISH. THE DAMNED. BOOK.

Pyramidion now available to purchase – eBook releases 5 June!

My first novel, Pyramidion, is now available via Amazon, in both Paperback and eBook formats! While the eBook is currently only available for pre-order, releasing June 5th, the Paperback is ready to go, and generally ships within a couple of days – how exciting!

The link below is to Amazon Australia, but it is available in all regions – just switch over to your local region!

If you’d like to know more, here’s the synopsis:

What if everything you thought you knew was a lie?

“Seek the Pyramidion.”

After losing his whole world in a car accident, Luke Nixon falls into a pit of despair, only to find himself receiving advice from his dead wife in his dreams. He soon ends up under the care of an ancient organisation and learns that he and his family are of an ancient bloodline – and that his daughter is still alive.

Unsure if he can trust them, but lacking any other choice, Luke is left with only one option: to rescue his daughter. However, it’s no simple task following a breadcrumb trail across multiple continents, through the spirit realm, and ultimately bringing Luke face to face with gods and demons.

Click button below to buy now!