BLOGNews, Fiction Updates & General Musings
So, it’s that time of year again.
Firstly, I’ve been a little silent on the blog in 2015. I suppose I should apologise. That said, I’ve not exactly been neglecting my career. Quite the opposite, in fact. The very fact that I haven’t posted much all comes down to the sheer amount of new novels I’ve been working on. When it comes to fiction vs non fiction, fiction is my primary love. I enjoy writing non fiction, but it’s the fiction that pays the bills, so I’m sure it’s pretty understandable that it’s where my priorities lie.
Plus, in fiction you get to set zombies loose on people. Wouldn’t be quite as moral in non fiction.
Anyway, I figured I’d do a little end/start of year thing here. The bulk of my non fiction posts these days go through my newsletter, so be sure to check that out if you want an insight into my life (for whatever reason, preferably one that doesn’t require a restraining order). But in the spirit of the new year, what better time to get down a few resolutions and publish them to the world to be mocked when I don’t stick to them?
Some people have one New Year’s Resolution. I’ve gone with five. Over-ambitious/Deluded. YOU DECIDE.
1.) I will be vegetarian for the whole of the year, cooking something fresh every week. This will make me healthy and happy.
Vegetarianism is something I’ve been dabbling with for about six months now. I won’t go into the morals and ethical baggage that comes with it, but for several reasons I pretty much cut all pig and lamb out of my life last year, and have been making moves to transition away from beef and chicken too. I’ve been tempted by the smells of bacon cooking, almost put off by lacklustre veggie alternatives to sausages. But I’m trying new things, broadening my palette, and genuinely enjoying exploring new foods — all that make me feel a lot healthier after eating, too.
I’ve never been overweight (lucky me, I know). I’ve never even been that unhealthy an eater (let’s forget about university cooking for a moment). But the realisation that healthier = happier a few years back has galvanised me to give this vegetarian thing a full go. It didn’t start for health reasons, but that’s a nice little bonus that comes with it.
I’m looking forward to seeing how a year of healthy, meat-free eating goes.
And yes. I did eat turkey on Christmas. But that’s why they’re called “new year’s resolutions” right?
2.) I will get up at 7am every weekday and 9am every weekend. This will make me energised and motivated.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a terrible early-riser. Actually, that’s not even true. I’m not a terrible early-riser because I’m not an early-riser at all. I like the idea of getting up early. I like the notion of rolling out of bed full of energy, taking my dog out for a walk in the early morning fresh air, then getting back to my desk for 9am.
Truth is, I’m the snooze button’s prisoner.
I’m probably exaggerating a little. I always tend to get up before 9:30. But I still get frustrated with myself if I get out of bed past eight. I feel like I’ve wasted precious morning hours.
The resolution? Get up a whole lot earlier. Make 7am my target instead of 8. That way, even if I can’t physically (read: mentally) get out of bed at 7, I’ll still be up with enough time to get all my daily tasks done.
Just don’t speak to me at 7am. Please.
3.) I will write x words a day 5 days a week without fail, sticking to the tried and tested methods I know work. This will keep on making me a living doing what I love, and keep me productive.
No, I didn’t make a typo. I really did just write “x words.”
I dabbled with publicising daily word goals in the past. Truth is, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It sets a level of immense pressure for myself to live up, as well as baffling (and sometimes upsetting) people who can’t quite write as much a day.
I know not sharing my goal is a bit of a cop out. After all, what’s the point of me putting this out in the public sphere anyway? But just know I’ve got a very tight schedule to stick to through 2016, which means a rather massive number of words per day.
I love writing, fortunately. I love spending eight hours a day getting the words down. It’s my job. It’s what I do. So I need a goal to make the most of this opportunity.
How will you know if I’ve stuck to this goal? By the number of releases to my name by the end of the year, and the quality of those releases. That’s how.
Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it…
4.) I will switch my phone off at 10 every night, and only turn it on after walking my dog the following morning. This will make me more present and less distracted.
The idea of “present living” is another thing that I’ve been very interested in for a long time. To cut a long story short, I’ve seen for myself that a less cluttered, less connected life is beneficial to me. Don’t get me wrong–being able to access a constant stream of information is absolutely fantastic. But it’s also draining, even if we don’t sometimes recognise it.
I’ve made a vow to switch my phone off at ten every night. I go to bed an hour or two after that, so it’ll allow me to wind down and hit that 7am wake-up target. Staring at a screen before bed is bad for you anyway, so I have to do what I have to in order to hit the targets I’ve set for myself.
The delayed switch-on is another interesting element to this. Usually, when we wake up, the first thing we do is rush to read our news feeds, scan our emails, browse the news, get distracted by Instagram, send a Snapchat… We connect to the stream before actually taking a moment to live life.
I’d like to stay present over breakfast. I’d like to stay present while walking my dog. Then, I can get back and see to my notifications quickly, allowing myself to clear my mind before starting my day at work.
Seriously, give this one a try. I’ve done it on and off over the last two years, and it’s been a life-changer. Now just to stick to it…
5.) I will read for one hour and watch one hour of television every day. This will broaden my mind and build my storytelling skills.
Okay, this is a bit of a treat/cheat resolution. But there’s plenty to it.
I love watching television. Not mundane stuff. I mean good, well-written series. I’m currently on Bloodline, which I love. I have Netflix, Amazon and NowTV accounts. It’s a wonder I ever get any work done, I know. But serialised television is my vice, and it’s in a damned good moment of form right now, too.
And because it is in a damned good moment, that means that us writers can pick things up as we’re watching. Sometimes subconsciously, other times consciously, through post-watch analysis and study. Same goes for books–we can learn what we enjoy, what we didn’t enjoy, and use those lessons to broaden our skills.
The result of this? 365 hours of reading in a year. Say it takes 5 hours to read an average size book, that’s 73 books a year. And assuming a standard TV series has ten episodes on average, that’s around 36 series. If that isn’t a crash course in storytelling and pop culture education, with only two hours of time investment* per day, then I don’t know what is.
*We’ll ignore the ridiculous costs all my subscriptions add up to, though. Not really. It’s education. Education costs, education pays. At least, that’s my excuse for all the episodes of Fargo I’ve watched and re-watched.
Have a very happy new year. And cheers for checking out my books. I had a new one out at the end of December. You’ve probably heard about it via my newsletter/Facebook page. Dead Days Season Six is available. You can check it out here.
After what seems like forever, the fourth (and penultimate) book in the Infection Z series is now available to purchase/KU read over at Amazon.
In the latest book, we jump in on Hayden’s life a while after the conclusion of IZ3. He’s beaten, battered, and doesn’t have much hope in the world. He’s not keen on the dead (naturally), and he isn’t so keen on the living either.
But, naturally, shit happens, and Hayden is forced to respond.
This instalment is perhaps different to the prior books in that I wrote it with a solid theme in mind. I wanted to explore some of the problems of the world we live in today and re-imagine it on a post-apocalyptic canvas. I found the experience very rewarding and a lot of fun. Hopefully I’ve balanced the two sides of the spectrum, too.
Here’s the cover. You can pick the book up below for just $4.99. So treat yourself to a cheery, uplifting… nah. Sorry. That’s just not the way it is.
But treat yourself anyway.
CLICK HERE to purchase.
“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
And so the quote goes. Nice advice, I’ve always found. Life should have a balance to it. At least, that’s what I always took from the quote.
But I feel the quote is much mis-used. Especially when directed at the self-employed, or at someone in traditional employment who clearly has a love and passion for their work, for what they do.
It’s a quote I often hear when I’ve spent the week pretty much in solitude battling to get the latest manuscript turned in for edits, or knee-deep in revisions. “You want to be careful,” X person says. “You’re doing so much work that you’re forgetting about your life.”
In the early days, I found it strange. After all, what I’m doing — a career in writing — is something many people do in their spare time. Something many people do as a hobby. So, something they do in their… yes, you guessed it. Lives.
But now, I kind of shrug and smile as I think I understand the reasons this quote is so oft-used, and so badly interpreted.
Take myself for example. Cause why the hell not? I work full time as a writer. When I’m not writing, I’m doing business related writing tasks. Or I’m editing. Or I’m networking. I wake up at 8 in the morning and I finish at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. In the evening, I chill out, or see a friend, or go to a football match, or whatever. I don’t work weekends. I hang out with friends, family, etc.
So basically… I do the exact same thing someone in a “normal job” does. Only I do it in the comfort of my home. Or a cafe. Or a library.
Oh. And I happen to love what I’m doing.
So how the hell is that not “making a life”? How is chasing dreams, following passions, albeit in an unconventional approach, not living?
Another reason I find this quote is so often misused is because of the habits many of us self-employed freelancers form. I’m a single guy (that’s not a cry for attention, I swear). My bills aren’t sky high. I don’t spend a lot. I don’t see myself married or with kids in the next decade…
…And I’m completely okay with that. Means I get more time to spend with my passion. More time to spend living my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hermit. Many of us self-employed, work-from-home types are just as social as the rest of the world. I get ratty if I don’t do something social for a day or two. Just the nature of the game.
But that rattiness is a small price to pay to be able to do something I enjoy. Every day. In my room. Wearing noth… I jest. I wear something. Apologies in hindsight for the mental image that may or may not have formed in your mind just then, but definitely has formed right now.
The reason the “don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life” quote is so often used–incorrectly, in my eyes?
Because there’s different lives to live. We all have different things that make us tick. We don’t all want to follow the same life path. We don’t all want to be carbon copies of one another. We don’t all have to fit into that narrow window of expectation.
So the next time somebody tells you “don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life,” think about what they’re saying at first. Do you need to get a life? Do you need to start doing more things that make you happy? Are you giving up on the things that make you tick at the expense of a job that you also enjoy? Then go find some balance.
If you’re already completely happy with your life–whether it’s happily married with kids, or single-as-hell and totally satisfied with your life, both from a work and a social perspective–then just brush off those comments. Because you are living your life.
You’re just not living the life the rest of the world wants you to live.
And usually, that’s a ridiculously good thing.
It’s officially autumn, which means my promise of a post-apocalyptic end to the year (fictionally) is well and truly in full swing, continuing right now with the launch of Chloe: The Journey!
It’s the sequel to the first Chloe book, which I launched to great sales, reviews and feedback last month. It was a daunting book to launch, mostly because it’s the first time I’ve ever tried this “series within a series” business. But it’s definitely paid off, and everyone who has read it understands now why I had to split it up from the main Dead Days storyline. Just way too much story for one book!
Chloe: The Journey picks up right where Chloe left off, leading a group of survivors across a barren landscape in search of some kind of meaning in life. But as divisions split the group and the zombies grow even more terrifying, Chloe’s leadership is put straight to the test. Overall, it was an absolute joy to write, and I particularly loved writing the villain in this one. I wanted to make them as human as possible, holding up a mirror to the protagonist and showing how they might turn out if they follow a certain path. I’ve worked hard at getting that right, and I’d love to think I’ve nailed it.
Well, I enjoyed writing it. And that’s always a good sign, anyway.
Here’s the cover. If you click, you’ll be taken right to Amazon, where you can download to your Kindle. Links to the other stores below.
And yes, I know. I really need to get all my books done in paper and audio. I’m working on it.
Okay, maybe not working on it just yet. But working on working on it…
Enjoy. Leave a review if you do, and let your friends know about it.
Figured I’d not done many posts on the actual process of writing for a long, long time. A good solution? Some bite-sized (possible, if I keep the waffle down, unlike now) blogs on some of the most important things I’ve learned in my three(!) years as a professional writer.
I’m basing this series of six posts on the majority of questions I’m asked via email. First up is one of the most common — whether I plan or “pants”.
I’ve done a few posts on the topic in the past. But to be honest, my process has changed over time. I used to be a full-blown pantser (pantser = make it up as you go). Then I shifted more to the middle. Nowadays? I’m a full-blown planner.
I’m living proof that people who think they are pantsers can plan if they put some advance time and effort into it. And I’m definitely of the school of thought that a well-planned book can make the entire writing process a hell of a lot easier.
Yes, Stephen King isn’t a fan of planning. But he’s an absolute master of the craft. Not planning is fine, but an understanding of what underpins the craft of fiction is pretty important if you’re going to make it up as you go — which is not to discredit the process of pantsing, btw.
My process usually goes something like this:
1.) Study the market. Read books. Figure out what I enjoy (a harder process than it should be). Figure out what readers are enjoying. Find a happy medium between what stimulates me creatively and individually, and what books/genres are resonating with readers. I think of this not as writing to market, not at all. Rather, using the market as translation software for the untamed beast that is my writing voice.
I’m also not condoning writing in any genre just because it sells. I’m talking about a balance between creative desires and commercial potential. For example, I don’t like writing in the romance genre. That’s no fault of the genre — I just don’t think I write good romance novels. So I don’t write/publish in that genre, even though it’s the most marketable kind of fiction.
On the other hand, I love writing and reading post apocalyptic horror. I add my own unique suspensey spin on the genre, with a literary depth to the morally ambiguous characters, and challenging themes that aren’t usually present in similar stories. And that’s as key a thing as anything — individuality. Don’t copy stuff. Take inspiration from what you enjoy reading, from what many readers enjoy reading, sure. But then add your own spin on things. Set yourself aside from the crowd. Do this, and you’ve already got a headstart.
2.) I boil this down into an idea. The idea might come first, or perhaps it’ll spawn as a result of my research. An idea is just a grain. The initial spark of life. The flame of inspiration. But it’s nothing. Not until it becomes…
3.) A concept. A concept is an idea on a questionable substance. It’s an idea with ‘what if?’ attached to it. What if aliens invade earth? What if rabbits breed with tarantulas and form a new species of post apocalyptic super villain? What if? provides dramatic potential. That’s exactly the job of the concept — creating a vehicle for dramatic experience. The spark of the idea becomes a full blown flame.
4.) I think about character next. What’s my character’s problem? And I don’t mean “they only have one arm” or that kind of problem. I mean their inner demon. Their flaw. Their issue. I want to know what my character has wrong with them, so I know how to fix it (or how to make it defeat my character depending on the story) at the end of the book. I want to know how to prepare that vehicle of dramatic experience for a journey.
Character is the fuel to the engine of dramatic experience. It’s the stakes. It’s the care package. And it’s where the emotion kicks in. You think about your character, give them something to care about, give them a flaw, and you work from there.
But the whole process is a lot more enriching if you combine it with…
5.) Theme. Yep, that dirty word. When I was at school, I always had theme down as “world peace” or “racism” — that kind of thing. And that’s where a lot of fiction writers get it wrong.
Theme is the issue at the heart of your story. It’s the thing you’re exploring. It goes hand in hand with character. If your character has a drink problem, maybe the theme of the story is investigating addiction from different angles. Or maybe it’s the solidity of marriage in the face of opposition.
Theme is the heart of your story. You can leave it out if you want, but it’ll sneak in there subconsciously anyway, so you might as well spend a few hours thinking about it and getting it spot on.
6.) Now, I work on structure. I throw all the ingredients above into a pot and write out a brief summary of the key plot points. I flesh that out, split it up into acts, figure out what goes where. Every time I write a one-sentence summary of a scene, I ask “what’s the mission?” By that I mean: what is this scene achieving in the wider context of the story?
If it’s achieving nothing, it goes.
This approach is perhaps my favourite reason for planning over pantsing. It allows me to see my story from a macro level, allows me to fix potential lulls before I’ve even written them. And it doesn’t take the energy out of my book. That used to be my old excuse for not planning. If anything, with mission-driven scene planning, it just makes me all the more eager to get started.
7.) I write the thing. More on that process in the coming weeks.
Overall, this might seem a long-winded process. Another reason many people don’t plan. Sure, it might take a week on first try. But now, I’ve got my planning process down to a couple of days. A couple of days hard work thinking about the beats and plot points in my story, the thematic journey, the character arc.
All that makes for a better story.
I’ve just now realised this post isn’t so bite-sized anymore. My bad.
If you’re a pantser, think about planning. If you’re a planner, think about pantsing. The intention of this post isn’t to discourage you from your method, just to open your eyes to another way of doing things.
Speaking of which, I planned the heck out of my latest novel, Chloe, using the methods above. It’s gone on to be one of my most successful launches ever. Check it out if you want a more in-depth, real world look at how I go about structuring things.
Hope it helps. Maybe I’ll keep this series of posts up!