Story Worms: It’s Better Together

I’m an ideas person. Which is kind of a good thing when you’re an author. But, I’m also a crazy ideas person. And I tend to get over-excited, and too ambitious, impatient and impulsive. Mixed together with the crazy ideas I have, I can get myself into things that really could have done with a bit more thought.

What I am not is organised. Or considered. Or cautious. Spontaneity is fun, and exciting, and it can take you on some amazing adventures, but it’s more of a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. I’m good at that: having big ideas, starting them, and never seeing them through.

I’m not really selling myself here, am I? So, I’m flawed. Who isn’t? But, I’m also passionate, loyal, and enthusiastic. Once I commit to something, I give it my all. There, you see? I have redeemable qualities after all.

None of us are perfect. None of us know it all. But together, we can truly flourish. Find someone who has the qualities you lack, someone who lacks the qualities you have, who has knowledge where you have naivety, and vice versa. Find someone who is just the right amount of similar to you, and just the right amount of different.

I’ve never collaborated with another author before. I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. Sure, I have my wonderful tribe of author friends, but we’re mostly there to cheer one another along. We give each other a leg up when it’s needed, but we’re all walking our own path.

I’m still unsure if I could actually write a book with someone else (far too much of a control freak!), but I’d probably be more open to the idea now.

This month, I launched a collaboration project with a good author friend of mine; H.B. Lyne. Together, we have relaunched my worldbuilding podcast: The Great Western Woods.

I’d originally started the project with my usual ardour; big ambitions, little planning. Just winging it as I went along. I keep telling myself that this is how I work best, but I don’t think it’s really true. The regularity of the episodes dwindled, and then stalled altogether. But Holly’s brought a fresh dose of enthusiasm, and a huge amount of organisation.

I have to be honest; I rebelled and fought it at first, this hyper-organisation that I’m just not used to. But she’s won me over, and we have a fantastic, well-planned project that is already outstripping the original podcast on reach and feedback. And I’m super excited about it. I can actually see where this is going.

Not everyone you try to collaborate with is going to be the right person. Not every partnership will work. But I believe that, when you find the right person, you’ll know. Thunderbolts? Is that how it goes?

I can see Holly and myself working together on a lot of things. While we may never actually write a book together, we have so many other things planned. And it’s so much fun having someone to work with. To bounce ideas off. To pick up the slack when you’re unable to, and someone to support when they need you. For fear of drowning in the sentimentality, I’ll sign off here. But, my point is this; be open to collaborating. It opens up things you may never have attempted, or even thought of, by yourself.

If you’d like to listen to The Great Western Woods Worldbuilding Podcast, you can do so here:

Story Worms: Finding Your Tribe

We all know that vision of an author, that often romaticised one; alone in a panelled room, nothing but you and your words. The tap-tap-tap of the keyboard, and the thrum of ideas and inspiration. Your muse draped on a chaise longue in the corner, a wide window overlooking a beautiful garden. The place where literary magic happens without interruption.

Of course, we all know it’s not like that in reality. In fact, if it is, I already despise you. Leave us now; this post is not for you. What it is in reality is more ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. I wonder how many of us can, honestly, raise our innocent little hand and claim that writing has never left us with murderous intentions.

Sure, we do have those days of beautious creative bounty. The days when we can’t write fast enough to keep up with the unhindered flow of genius. But, more often than not, it’s more a case of coffee, cake, crying, and the slow, inevitable descent into despair and, eventually, unrelenting madness. And my desk doesn’t have a garden view. It has the view of a dreary terraced street somewhere in central England.

One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is this; whether your view is picturesque or apocalyptic, the emotional journey of a writer is a turbulent one. There is the agony of self-doubt. The elation of shiny new ideas. The joy of good reviews, and the sting of bad ones. In any one moment, we can wildly swing from viewing ourselves as the next Dickens, to viewing ourselves as a toddler with a crayon. And it gets no better with fame, or fortune. Your window view may improve, but your inward one remains stubbornly similar.

It’s all too easy for writing to become a solitary endeavour. We can all too easily disappear into our fictional worlds, seeking companionship from our characters. Raising our heads back to reality only when we’re frightened by a sudden noise, or by our empty coffee cups. That cocoon is a cosy one.

Sometimes it feels like our own journey is unique. Not everyone around us understands the creative temperament. Not everyone around us can support us through it, or even put up with it. I pity my husband. It’s not always easy being married to a writer. I’m lucky that he’s always believed in me (moreso than I do in myself), not everyone is that fortunate.

For all his support, for all of his sympathy, he can’t empathise with my highs and lows. He hasn’t experienced them himself. I need my literary sanctuary with people who know exactly how I feel without any need to vocalise it. I need my tribe.

My tribe is amazing. They’re supportive, encouraging, generous with their advice, their experience, and their opinions. They fight the same demons, wrestle with the same unruly muses, bask in the same glories. Whenever I need it, someone will be there with an appropriate meme, a cat GIF, the right words to pull me out of my comfort zone, or a hand to hold through something that scares me.

We can talk about words, and tenses, and POV, and characterisation, and worldbuilding, and good pens, the smell of books, and cover design. We can use jargon words, laugh at our in-jokes. We can be ourselves without raised eyebrows. We can lift one another up, and we understand that we’re not competing. We can discuss mental health, and the future of our world, and the legacy we’ll leave. We can interrupt a conversation to jot down a story idea. We can get excited over the same nerdy things.

Some of them I have never met, and probably never will. Others, I’ve had coffee with, broken bread with, hugged. We’ve had write-ins, and word sprints, video chats, and email exchanges.

I need my tribe, and I hope that they know that. I also hope that they need me. That I’m not just an annoying leech of a tag-along that they tolerate out of sympathy. (I also know that they’ll understand that little paranoia.) Writing doesn’t need to be solitary. It can be a festival. A crowd. It can be a blanket fort with room for two, or ten, or fifty. I need people around me who understand me. I need my tribe.

Story Worms: You are More Than your Wordcount

November. I bet, if you’re not doing it yourself, you know someone who’s frantically scribbling away for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Have they been hiding? Not answering your calls? Are they looking a little pale from lack of sunshine? Don’t fret. It’s normal. They’ll be back to their usual self by December.

Because, taking on a challenge like writing 50,000 words in a mere 30 days is life-absorbing. Take it from a veteran NaNo-er; you don’t have time for socialising. For friends. For family. You know; frivolous things like eating and sleeping. But, in all seriousness, I’m not even joking. NaNoWriMo consumes your life for one month a year. And, with Christmas on the horizon, it’s not even a quiet month besides the writing.

I’m a great fan of NaNoWriMo. Yes, some people decry it as a pointless exercise that promotes quantity over quality, and produces nothing but bad, unpublishable fiction. True. Absolutely true. But then, how many first drafts are of a publishable standard?

NaNoWriMo also promotes some great habits; writing every day, sticking to a deadline, companionship, turning off the inner-editor, and, at the end of the day, just writing. Just doing it. I love NaNo, I really do. But there is a potentially harmful side to it, too.

I see a lot of people side-lining their health, both physical and mental, to chase that target wordcount. People stressing to the point where it’s really affecting their wellbeing. Putting themselves second to that wordcount goal. Let me say this: you are far more important than your wordcount. Let’s say that again: you are far more important than your wordcount.

If you need a day off, take it. If you want to go for a walk, or watch trashy TV, or read a book, or eat cake, or whatever you need to keep yourself well, do it. Your writing will still be there tomorrow. And don’t feel guilty for it, don’t feel like you’ve failed. Because your writing needs you to be healthy. If you want to write well, you need to look after yourself as well as the words.

At the end of the day, if you end November with 20,000 words, you may not have the big NaNo win, but it is a huge win in itself. A huge win. Which other months have you managed to write 20k? Celebrate what you achieve, don’t focus on what you don’t.

Take care of yourself. You are so much more important than your wordcount.

Story Worms: Biting the Bullet

Despite being a huge horror fan, I’m scared of a lot of things. The dark, spiders, flying, food with a face. In fact, simply leaving the house each day can feel like a test of courage. There’s just all sort of things that can go wrong, or cause a moment of awkwardness, and I can’t prepare for them all.

But when you’re a self-publishing author, you’re also running a business, and businesses require scary things like marketing and networking. We’re a funny lot, us writers. We hide away in darkened rooms, or basements, or under the eaves, sometimes in quiet corners of coffee shops and libraries if we’re particularly brave, and we spend much of our time talking to fictional characters, and living in fictional worlds. And that’s just how we like it, right? So it’s hardly surprising that social awkwardness tends to be rather prevalent among our numbers.

Last Saturday I attended a local speculative fiction literary convention. I’ve been going for a few years now, and I know a lot of people who go, and I spend the day hugging and chatting and catching up with everyone I’ve not seen for a year. But I remember my first time there. Not only did I have the anxiety of going somewhere new, with people I didn’t know, but I was set to read an excerpt from one of my short stories. The convention hosts several book launches, and the anthology the story was published in was being launched that weekend. It was absolutely terrifying. But I did it, and I’m so glad that I did.

That book launch got me recognition in that community, it made me friends in it, and it led me to what has happened today.

The one thing I always leave the convention with is ideas. Loads of them. Story ideas, project ideas, character ideas, and business ideas. Ways to push my self-publishing business forward.

I approached the event’s organiser (it actually took me 3 days to pluck up the courage to email him!) and pitched an idea I had for a workshop I wanted to run next year. And when he responded, it took me a while to pluck up the courage to open his email. Because this meant so much to me. But, with one eye squinted shut, I read his reply. Not only did he love my idea, but he asked me to bring it forward to the winter event, and he asked me to sit on one of the panel discussions.

Being on a panel discussion scares the absolute bejeezers out of me. I practically grew up on the stage, but I always had a script, a costume, a character to hide behind. This will be me. Unscripted. With a whole audience of people expecting me to say something clever and insightful. So I said yes. I bit the bullet. Because sometimes we have to do the thing that terrifies us the most.

And not just because it’s good for business. But because it’s good for us.


Story Worms: What’s the Worth of Permafree?


However counter-intuitive it may seem, making the first ebook in a series free is becoming an increasingly popular strategy for indie writers. Of course, as with any equally controversial tactic, there is a very strong divide and a lot of heated debate between the yays and the nays.

I can understand the arguments on both sides; after all, why would you give away something you’ve slaved over for months, maybe even years? Surely your blood, sweat, and tears are worth some compensation. And I completely agree. I stopped submitting to non-paying and exposure only markets a long time ago, and even Horror Tree itself no longer lists them.

There’s also the argument that authors giving away their books devalue the work of all authors, with readers expecting to get ebooks for free. It’s a fair point. We’re living in a culture where people expect to get ever more for less and less. Where hard work, talent, and particularly creativity are hugely undervalued. It’s not a culture we should be perpetuating.

Others feel it encourages low-quality ebooks; rushed, unedited, with poor DIY covers. The indie market has fought hard to shake itself of its low-quality reputation, and it’s a reputation that, even now, it’s only partially rid itself of. There are still many readers refusing to read self-published books.

But the permafree model is one with a proven track record. It’s also one that focuses on the long game. It requires patience and a strong nerve. It’s not about making a quick buck (obviously), it’s about gaining loyal readers and nurturing a relationship with them over time. Why? Because a loyal reader will buy your future books, they’ll review them, and they’ll recommend them to family and friends. And I’m sure I don’t have to explain the value of that.

Like it or not, we live in a society where the consumer is king. And the king likes to try before he buys. This is hardly a new thing, nor is giving away free trials to get future sales (and, hopefully, brand loyalty). We see it with free tasters offered in supermarkets, or at farmer’s markets. We see it with the free sample packets of cosmetics in magazines. It’s been a marketing model for years, and if it wasn’t successful, no one would be doing it anymore. Mind you, a small free sample hasn’t cost these companies months and months of hard work.

So it does remain a controversial approach, and there will always be those that speak out against it. After all, should we be encouraging readers to expect books for free? But on the other hand, we’re struggling for visibility in a saturated market, and against those with much bigger marketing budgets than we have. We have to do something if we want to sell our books beyond a few copies to friends and family.

In my next Story Worms post, I’ll show how I made my book permafree, and reveal the results from the first few weeks.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about the permafree approach.

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