My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I was tagged by fellow-writer Louise Gibney (also known as Miss Write!) to participate in this writing process ‘blog tour’. Louise’s first novel Girl Meets Boys is unfortunately no longer available for sale, but I’m eagerly awaiting her second novel — which she has said is “a story of family, grief, personal discovery and development.” She also writes tons of fantastic articles on her blog.

Louise asked the following questions:

1. What am I working on?

Writing Process: Moonstruck
Stock images by wyldraven and DigitalissSTOCK.

My second book is a science-fiction/horror called Moonstruck. The hero, Stephanie Walker, joined the Space Navy to escape her past and has worked her way up to First Mate despite being grumpy, violent and unsociable. Disliked by her crew, she’s nonetheless their only hope after a monster starts killing them with abandon. Luckily, she has the help of new recruit, Daniel, and she realises that they are much stronger working together than she ever was on her own.  The book is currently about 20,000 words short of its second draft.

I’ve also tentatively planned out the sequel to The Rising Wind and hope to start on the first draft of that soon.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In a lot of science-fiction and horror, you’re often left with a ‘last survivor’, a lone hero who rises above impossible odds. In this book, I wanted to flip that a little bit, and show a group of people overcoming differences and working together to survive. As for whether they do or not, I guess you’ll have to wait and see…

More generally, I try to include a lot of diverse characters in my writing. The Rising Wind, for example, features a gay couple, but the book isn’t about that. They are just like a normal couple, and the alternate reality that they live in – whilst it has a lot of problems – really doesn’t have any prejudice about same-sex relationships. (At least at this point in its history.)

3. Why do I write what I do?

I grew up reading almost everything I could get my hands on. Sci-fi, detective novels, classics, Mills & Boon, historical romance, straight historical novels, trippy post-modern stuff, everything! I really like combining lots of different elements together in my work. There’s always nearly a fantastical element, but my stories are rooted in a world quite like our own. I also have opinions that some would describe as radical, and I like to explore how some of my ideas would play out if they became a reality.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m still refining my process, and I’m terribly slow. It took me well over five years to write The Rising Wind. I usually have to spend ages writing ‘around the characters’, stuff that helps me understand who they are and how they think, but which won’t ultimately make it into the final story.

Anyway, here is my current writing process:

I start by writing out a few scenes in Scrivener, just to get a handle on the world and the characters. I call this a first draft, and it’s normally puked out and rarely has any decent ending.

Then I use workflowy to rough the story out, chapter-by-chapter, and scene-by-scene. (I used to use excel)

Then I re-write in Scrivener. I love Scrivener because it lets me drag and drop scenes around and stops me thinking of the book as the linear a-to-b thing. I give each scene a couple of labels, one is the POV and the other is the state its in. I’ll move around the story at random, so you’ll get some scenes that have been re-written several times and are close to ‘final draft’ and others that are still ‘stuff happens’.

Once it’s in a fit state, I send it to beta readers and get feedback. They are usually good at picking up the odd gaping plot hole.

The last step is to hire an editor to go through it. They usually send back lots and lots of notes, and we work each scene two-or-three times.

Short stories I skip a few of the steps here, but they still get re-written quite extensively. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and written the story I first came up with. They always end up evolving!

Other writers to check out

Cybelle Pauli – A fellow member of the nanowrimo group on Facebook, Cybelle writes some interesting feminist poetry.

Laura Hayley – Another member of the nanowrimo group, and writes over at Quaktaculaura. I’m delighted to see her giving my favourite form of prose writing a go – namely the short story. I thought her latest one, Black and White, was particularly poignant. I wish her the best of luck getting her manuscript accepted!

Matt Holland – I’ve had the opportunity to see Matt’s writing evolve over the last few years. He’s developed a fantastic and unique voice. Biting, funny, with great characters. Definitely check out his Gallaetha novels!

The blog turned twenty

I picked up on this tidbit of news as I was browsing through my feedly list.

A blog I follow, Six Pixels of Separation, linked to the Guardian article. It would appear that the once new and exciting blog has become a comfortable middle-aged pastime.

I started blogging when I was about 17. That’s twelve years in which I have more or less continuously written about my life, my thoughts, my politics and my experiences.

The early days of blogging

I started with html files on a site built in notepad. My blogs were pretty short, and mostly about my life: what I got for Christmas, my thoughts on Buffy, my school lessons. At the same time as this blog I was also trying to run a fan-site with a little guestbook that later became a massive forum.

After I got tired of manually updating HTML files all the time, I moved to Greymatter, (my first experience of open source software!). Greymatter was lovely, it had such a pleasant feel to it. But when it was abandoned by its creator I ended up writing my own php script and coupled it with a mySQL database.

That – and my forum – were how I learned to program for the web. Those programming skills ended up earning my keep when I became an adult. Who knew my silly blog would have such an impact?

The rise and fall of LiveJournal

I also started journaling on LiveJournal. Blogs are public, or have very clunky privacy controls. Livejournal was the first example of a platform in which you could choose who saw which post. I had lists of friends, some of whom were privy to my my soul-searching existential angst, some who saw only my posts about what I got for Christmas. I started writing on LiveJournal more than my ‘real’ blog. In LJ I told my deepest secrets to people I hardly knew. That was part of the point: there could be no come-back, no messy consequences. As a result, I made many close friends all across the world.

Those friends would later put me up as I travelled around the States, making a trip that should have been prohibitively expensive pretty cheap and amazingly fun. Who knew that turning your private diary into a semi-public affair would end up earning you a circle of such fantastic people?

I’m still on LJ, though everyone knows it isn’t what it used to be. It’s not that LJ has changed, it’s just that we’ve grown older (and the young uns are on tumblr and snapchat and other things I no doubt don’t know about).

When blogs grew up and started showing up at the office

After a while I moved away from my own custom php blog onto some of the platforms that had been built by others. MoveableType I never got on with, but eventually I stumbled upon WordPress… and I never looked back. (This current blog is built on WordPress, and most websites I build for clients are on the same platform)

As I came out of University I became desperate to ‘make money online’ and started several blogs for that purpose. My first scared me with its success and I abandoned it in confusion: it was a blog about how to write, one of my posts went viral on StumbleUpon and I suddenly realised that I, a young woman with nothing published and a mere 3-year degree in Creative Writing, was not the right person to be trying to teach writing. I made, perhaps, 50p out of googleads.

I later tried a minimalism blog, a permaculture blog and even a personal development blog but my heart was not in any of them. Meanwhile, other bloggers were making six and seven figure sums. Blogging had become a profession, a bit of a kooky one, but one that could make serious money.

About this time I got my first proper job, and to my surprise it involved writing for the web, and notably blogging. I wrote under a pseudonym, and I wrote about how to write video games. The blog was moderately successful, and my pseudonym was even offered a book deal (it never came to fruition, alas). I was essentially being a paid a (fairly measly) salary for what I had used to do as a teenager: namely blog, mess around with HTML, and talk about video games. Nobody was more surprised than me.

The truth was though, the web in general had become far more professional and far more corporate. Teenagers still built sites in HTML with tiny fonts and big picture backgrounds. But in the grown-up world user experience, conversion rates, SEO, and money, money, money was the name of the game.

At the same time as I was being paid to blog about video games, I also started writing under my real name as part of a group blog about gaming. The blog was called girlsdontgame and is now, sadly, defunct. It was probably the most successful blog I’ve ever been a part of, however. The posts were popular – I went viral on stumbleupon again – and eventually we came to the notice of some big league game companies.

EA invited me to San Francisco – paid for my long distance flights and my hotel room – and I was given early access to some Sims games, plus a goody bag of freebies. All because I enjoyed writing about the video games I would have played anyway. But companies like EA knew that people read blogs for reviews, not magazines. Bloggers were more honest, more personable, and much more diverse. They took unique perspectives. And they argued with each other. They scored hundreds of thousands of visits.

Companies still blog, and companies still court popular bloggers.

Hello, my name is Social media

Then came MySpace. Blogging was part of MySpace, but it was much more informal. Later, MySpace became Facebook. People tried to predict the next Facebook, but instead… twitter helped the internet to explode. Different types of social platforms sprang up everywhere; platforms for photos, platforms for videos, platforms for long-form writing, platforms for readers, platforms for microblogging, platforms for sharing music (that was MySpace making a comeback).

I was still blogging – trying to find a way to capture that early magic – but I was also trying to be on every social media platform in existence. The internet was…. diversifying. Rapidly.

Welcome back to today

These days I write on LiveJournal, which is still the place for my angst and sadface. I post to Facebook about my life and share photos of parties and events. I keep this blog, which is semi-professional and a great place for deeper, more thought-out posts about the world. In my day-job I manage an NGO blog integrated into our Drupal CMS. I have a tumblr, where I share silly gifs and rabid politicism and less well-thought out rants about the world. It’s an ecosystem that seems to work for now, but no doubt it will shift again in the future.

One thing is for sure. I’ll always be blogging in some shape or form.

Hey, where have you been since October?

Some of you, who are paying attention, may have noticed that I haven’t blogged since October 12th but suddenly surged back into action yesterday with a post about Cold Comfort Farm.

Well, here’s the honest truth, and it gives me a chance to talk about that old ‘write every day’ thing that goes around.

On October 2 my husband went back to the States. I wrote a bit about surviving a long distance relationship, thinking my advice would be helpful to some people (I hope it was). What I wasn’t expecting was a big old helping of winter blues, what some might call depression. In the last three months I moved house, applied for an immigrant visa (discovered that said visa could take nine months to get processed) and went to work. Beyond that, I had nothing.

I didn’t write and I didn’t blog. I’m not sorry. I have come to accept that, particularly in winter, particularly when life is difficult, I will struggle to do much more than what is necessary. I have spent many years beating myself up about this – calling myself lazy and the like. But the truth is, like any life, mine has priorities. Keeping my day job is one – I need the money to pay the bills! My loved ones are another – they keep me sane and happy.

After that, everything is optional.

You often get told that if you want to be a writer, you need to write every day. You need to write a lot. A writer… writes.

To be honest, writing every day will help. It will make you a better writer, faster. It will get you through that million words of crap you have to write before you become decent. A book is a lot of words, and the fastest way to get those words is to write.

But sometimes you can’t write. And beating yourself up about it won’t help. Guilt is not a useful emotion, especially if the reason you’re not writing is because of difficult life reasons.

Some things won’t go away. If you’re not writing because of children, then well, you’re not going to write for a pretty long time. Better to figure out how to balance family and writing time. If you’re not writing because of a temporary illness, however, you will get better and then you can write. Cut yourself some slack.

I know full well that my writing comes and goes; I will have productive months and unproductive ones. I’m okay with that. I’ve written one book. I’ve got another half done.

The trick is not to write every day but rather to not give up. Always come back to writing as soon as you can. You have a lot of years and the only way to not be a writer is to not write at all.

Smokey Days: The Rising Wind – Sales (one year)

I try to avoid talking about the business and craft of writing on this blog. My goal is not to reach out to other authors (though I do like other authors), but to reach out to the kind of people that like to read books like the ones I write. Besides, as my sales figures will shortly demonstrate, I have no claim to be an expert in making a living from writing.

However, before dipping into the murky world of self-published ebooks, I found myself fascinated by people that detailed their sales. It’s my hope that these figures will provide some guidance to people considering self-publishing. Remember: your mileage will vary.

A bit of context:

I have one novella out, with a home-made cover. I work full-time. I carried out some marketing, but nowhere near the level that I would have done had I had more time.

The theory goes that the more books you have published, the more you sell. Obviously, I have yet to test this.

My only hope from publishing Smokey Days: The Rising Wind was that somebody would buy it and like it.

One year of sales

 

So: the overall trend is down – not surprising.

The amount of free books given away had literally zero impact on sales (or reviews). I suspect people download free books and never read them. As a result, I pulled out of the KDP program. At some point I’ll add the book to smashwords, nook and so on, as well as to my website directly.

People who think that self-publishing is a road to becoming a millionaire will no doubt be depressed at these numbers (especially considering I paid $312 for editing!). Personally, I’m pretty impressed. Given the few million ebooks published daily, the lack of prior following, the lack of marketing, the fact I sold any books at all is quite amazing. (Side note: my friends bought a few copies – but not all 28)

So there we go. Not exactly ‘quit the day job’ money, but still more than I was getting as a fanfiction author! And as I will write anyway, always, regardless of what happens, any money made is really just gravy.

Want to buy the book and see for yourself?

Some thoughts on Fandom

I am re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer right now. Just hit Season Two, and am having ALL THE FEELS.

Anyway, Buffy was probably my first ‘true’ fandom – I had been a fan of stuff before, but this was the first of my adolescence, and was also actually good (my previous fandom was Sonic the Hedgehog, which I still love, but does not exactly have the most complicated and subtle storylines in the world).

Re-watching, I am actually quite shocked at how much I remember, and how much I still cared – deeply, passionately – about the characters.

There are a few reasons I loved Buffy then, but looking back on it I am surprised at how progressive it is, far more progressive than most TV shows made today. There are some issues (like a terribly white washed crowd of students, and no non-whites in the central cast) but it’s also pro-athiesm, pro-women, pro-sex, pro-lesbian, pro-paganism/witchcraft, pro-single mothers… and so on.

I’m not really here to talk about Buffy, however. Instead, I want to talk about fandom. On the one hand, it seems a distinctly modern phenomenon. The internet connected up isolated fans and gave them a community, that in turn exploded into fanfiction, fanart, tumblrs dedicated to gifs, joint twitter watchings, and enabled thousands of conventions to spring up that catered to almost every different obsession.

On the other hand, fanfiction has existed at least since Dante wrote his Divine Comedy and wrote a story about himself hanging out with a whole bunch of famous people. (And there now exists fanfiction of the Divine Comedy, which is altogether awesome). Trekkies existed before the internet. I am sure that Shakespeare’s plays were adored by playgoers, many of whom probably went home and made up stories about the characters to tell each other. Humans and stories are inextricably interwoven, stories are our history and our identity and our culture.

And yet mass media and mass consumption has never before been so… well, mass. Millions of people can share a single moment, a beloved characters death, the first kiss of a blossoming true love story, the final come-uppance of an evil villain, the redemption of one that had almost fallen beyond reach. Our reactions are emotional, visceral, real-and-yet-not-real. Little jokes become gigantic sprawling memes: Loki’s army, for example. Any successful story; book, film, video game, quickly spawns hundreds if not thousands of sub-stories. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve invested into fandom, but it’s a lot. I drew fanart, wrote fanfiction, coded fan-sites, moderated fan-forums, participated in fan-role-playing-games, went to fancy dress parties as my favourite characters (cosplay by any other name is just as fun).

There are different types and levels of fandom. Whether you are speculating on soap-operas at work or welding together iron wings for upcoming cosplay you are participating in the culture. We like to scoff at other people’s fandoms (those that adore soap-operas will dismiss people who enjoy more fantasy driven fiction as ‘nerds’ whilst those who enjoy speculative flights of fancy will see the soap-opera watchers as dull beyond words). The truth is, we are much more alike than we like to believe.

I’d love to know: what has fandom done for you? I can credit my fandoms with forging some of my closest and most meaningful friendships, as well as being a big source of my current political outlook. But what about you?

W is for… Wallpapers

Here it is: my absolutely final post for the A-Z Challenge. A week late, and the wrong letter, but that is what makes life interesting.

Wallpapers. For your computer. I have an unhealthy obsession with desktop backgrounds (when I bought my netbook with Windows 7 on and discovered you couldn’t change the background I pretty much disowned it then and there). I don’t know why. Most of the time you aren’t even looking at the background, but rather at the window in front of it!

Anywhere here is a wallpaper I have created:

wallpapercarlsaganthumb

[standard] [widescreen]

And here is a link to some others I love:

Three ‘penmonkey’ wallpapers at Terribleminds

S is for… Scrivener

The letter SThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Some of you may have already heard of Scrivener, in which case feel free to skip this post.

Those of you who don’t write anything longer than a couple of paragraphs should also skip this post.

The rest of you should pay attention! This will be a short post.

Scrivener

Scrivener is the greatest writing software I have ever tried — and I have tried quite a few. There’s a bit of  a learning curve, but it’s worth it. So worth it. Being able to drag scenes around? Change from outlines to manuscript views? Track over-used words? Heck, I adore Scrivener.

That’s my sell. It’s up to you if you take the bait.

Q is for… Quotes (for writers)

The letter QThis post is part of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

Let’s be honest: we all love a good, pithy quote. And as for quotes about writing? Well, I could read them all day long (and sometimes have, damn you Goodreads!)

Here’s a small selection of my favourite quotes. If you have a beloved quote, please let me know about it in the comments!

kipling
kinghemmingwayfreyburroughsbradbury

With thanks to the following photographers:

Typewriter by ccpixel
Whiskey by kylemay
Books by aigle_dore
Fountainpen by Greg Wake
Sword by Cobalt
Drugs by epsos

M is for… Music (to write to)

The letter MThis post is part of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

I could share a lot of music with you. I adore music, and enjoy everything from heavy metal to dubstep to electro to reggae to rap.

However, instead of simply listing of all my favourite songs (which could take a while), instead I wanted to share with you the music I am listening to whilst writing my upcoming novel (as yet untitled). Each song evokes a specific mood or theme for the novel, and I switch between the songs depending on what the scene is about.

The playlist is below:

Cosmic lycanthrope

When writing The Rising Wind I was less dedicated, cycling through several albums. However the two main characters, Tabbi and Denise, had their own theme songs:

Tabbi

Denise

When choosing music to write, I find it’s rarely about the lyrics but more about the mood that the song conjures up. It is this that makes music so special – that I can put on a specific song and within ten seconds be feeling epic, nostalgic, jazzy, contemplative or just flat out despairing.

I would love to hear what music you listen to for inspiration. Do you have specific character themes? Do you have an album that you associate with a particular book or story? Let me know in the comments (or on twitter: @suziehunt).

A is for… new beginnings

The Letter A

Welcome to the very first blog post on suziehunt.co.uk.

Holy crap, I think that calls for some fanfare. *blows a trumpet and bangs a drum*

In order to get things moving, I have decided to participate in the A-Z Blogging challenge. This basically means I have to write 25 blogs posts this month, with a fairly arbitrary A-Z structure. That’s okay. Prompts are a good thing.

Today’s post is inspired by the letter A.

I could write about aardvarks. Arachnids. Avocado. But instead of giving you a recipe for avocado on toast (try it! It’s delicious.) I’m going to get a bit more abstract and talk about beginnings, since A is the start of the alphabet and… well, you get it.

So let me tell you about this blog. Topics will be pretty unstructured. I’m not going to even attempt to provide writing tips, or how to self publish successfully tips. I will share some personal anecdotes from my journey of writing and publishing, but ultimately I’m making about 99c a month from this whole deal, so you probably want to do the opposite of what I do.

I’m interested in lots of other things. Like food. So I will share recipes (avocado on toast, man, just do it) and occasionally foodgasms. I’m also interested in media, new media, social media, the way digital revolution changes society. In my other life – the one that pays me more than 99c a month – I work in digital communications. Blogging has been good to me. It got me my first offer of a book deal (under a pseudonym, natch, and it eventually fell through). It got me an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco to review some video games. It got me my first real job, as PR & Community Manager for a start-up video game company. Blogging has also connected me with people all around the world, to the point where I know the secret dreams, fears and hopes of people I’ve never met.

So, yeah, I might share some thoughts about blogging and online relationships and playfulness and digital nomads.

I’m also super interested in the environment, formerly a card-carrying hippy, now I work for an environmental charity. I worry a lot about vanishing resources, climate shift, and the great rapacious monster that is unbridled capitalism. I’m also fascinated by the way technology allows us to circumvent a lot of predicted problems. I’m fundamentally an optimist, I guess, and keep the faith that tech and new ways of working/living will enable us to manage our damage.

I’ll probably participate in blogging challenges, so look out for weirdly themed series of posts.

Welcome aboard. I’m sure this will be a fun ride. As always, questions, comments, strange tangents and crazed ramblings are welcome. Just don’t be boring.