The Most Important Writing Rule

There are so many writing rules out there and plenty of disagreement about which ones are worth adhering to and which ones should just be ignored. Some of the most famous ones are the ‘write every day’ rule and the ‘write what you know’ rule – both of which are widely misinterpreted! But there are plenty of others too and new ones pop up all the time. But I think the most important one has been forgotten somewhere along the way.

Writing is hard. It should be hard because anything worth doing, anything with the potential to change the world, shouldn’t come too easily. Writing is something you work at. Natural talent helps a lot but all writers improve the more they write, and all writers should be keen to improve their craft as they go along, acknowledging their weak areas, feedback from readers and professionals and so on.

What I’ve noticed lately though is that ‘writing is hard’ seems to dominate the writing community more and more. I see a lot of negative memes and posts about writing and it worries me. Writing is hard, don’t get me wrong. From that clumsy first draft where you are crawling through the dark trying to find the plot, to those final, tedious proofreads and edits where you think you will go crazy if you ever have to read through this thing again. Writing is hard because the right words don’t always come easily and writing is hard because sometimes characters take a while to become fully realised and alive. Writing is hard because marketing and advertising are expensive and not within everyone’s reach. Writing is hard because all too often your nearest and dearest don’t support your book babies. We get it. Writing is and should be hard.

But we are forgetting the most important thing, the thing that makes writing less hard and less all of the things mentioned above! Writing should be fun! Writing should be enjoyable. Writing should make you feel better about being human and living in this world. If it’s not fun, not enjoyable, why the hell are you doing it?

I have to admit, I just don’t understand it when I see so many writers moaning about how hard it is to write and how they procrastinate for hours or days at a time, how they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into their writing chair. There are so many memes out there that seem to suggest writing a book is nothing short of torture…

I just don’t get it…

If it feels that bad, if you hate it that much… why are you doing it?

When did the joy of writing and creating worlds get eroded? It’s tough out there, believe me, I know. Low sales and reviews can be soul destroying and jealousy and imposter syndrome creep in when you see other writers doing better than you. No doubt there is a tough side to this. I often say I could happily give up on the publishing and selling side of books, because that is the toughest bit, but the writing bit? Hell no! Not ever… You would have to drag me kicking and screaming from my writing desk and you still wouldn’t win.

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

Writing should be joyous, freeing and life affirming. I couldn’t do it if it made me feel worse. Real life is there for that! Writing is the escape… The chance to disappear and build your own universe, create heroes and villains, twisty plots to make your readers gasp and endings that are just too perfect. It’s not easy, but it should be fun. It should be more than fun. It should be utterly glorious. It should be something that excites you, something that makes you long for the moment you sit down and write…

In all the disappointment, self-doubt, endless edits and fruitless marketing, let’s not forget why we started this. Let’s not forget why we write. The most important writing rule in my opinion is it ought to be fun.

Creating A Universe

Writing is fun, challenging, therapeutic, cathartic and exciting for many reasons, and I have posted before about why I love writing so much. But I was thinking the other day about something that has begun to happen by accident with me and my writing. And that is creating a universe.

Now, if you are writing a fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian or even a horror story, then you’ll be well aware of the need to create a universe. What do we mean by universe? By ‘universe’ we mean a fictional world made up of locations, events and characters that differ from this world.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

As you can see, this makes perfect sense when writing in certain genres. You need to create a specific world because your story is not set in this one. However, creating a universe within writing can also mean something else. For example, stories set in the same town or place, whether real or imagined, or stories using the same characters but in separate stories, or characters that cross over from one story to another. Think of spin-offs, for example!

This is something that has happened quite by accident to me. Most of my books now exist in the same universe to some extent. And the universe keeps growing.

Out of the fifteen books I have published, eleven of them are set in the same ‘universe’ and are in some ways connected to each other. These books are The Boy With The Thorn In His Side 5-part series, The Mess Of Me, Elliot Pie’s Guide to Human Nature, the Holds End trilogy: A Song For Bill Robinson, Emily’s Baby and The Search for Summer, and This Is Nowhere.

This Is Nowhere is slightly different because it is the only book I’ve written where I’ve kept the locations real. It is set where I currently live and I have used the same houses, streets and other locations and kept everything as it actually is in real life. However, it does connect to the other ten books mentioned because the location is used for part of the story in Elliot Pie’s Guide to Human Nature, and one of the characters lives next door to characters from This Is Nowhere.

So, how do the other ten books exist in their own universe? The main way is through location. In all those books I have mostly used places and locations that actually exist and I have changed the names, or fictionalised them. For example, I used to live on a council estate called Townsend. In A Song For Bill Robinson and the rest of the trilogy, I’ve changed the name to Holds End but kept most of it the same. In The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and the Holds End trilogy, I use a location called Belfield Park. This is loosely based on an area nearby known as Boscombe. In The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and in The Mess Of Me I created a seaside town called Redchurch, which is pretty much a fictionalised version of my area, Christchurch.

I didn’t create this universe intentionally, but linking up my books in different ways has always been really enjoyable, and those links just keep getting stronger. For example, when writing The Mess Of Me, I thought it would be interesting to have the main characters mention and discuss the violent incident that happened between Danny and his stepfather, Howard, in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side books. The Mess Of Me is set after this series, but the incident happened locally to them and Danny is somewhat of a legend or hero in their area. He even went to the same school as them and scratched his name into a park bench they know of.

Elliot Pie lives on the Holds End estate, and is actually a neighbour of Bill Robinson and his family. Elliot’s mother pops up briefly in Emily’s Baby, and Bill is seen by Elliot striding away from their street with his guitar on his back. Elliot also travels to Redchurch and Belfield Park in his story, as well as Hurn, which is a real place (my village) and is the main location for This Is Nowhere. In my upcoming four book series The Day The Earth Turned, I have used Hurn and Christchurch as my main locations, and have changed Hurn to Heron and Christchurch is again, Redchurch.

I find it makes it easier for me to fictionalise locations I already know. It’s easier to describe them and get across the tone of them if they are places I am familiar with, but fictionalising them makes it even more fun. I can add things that are not there, for example, things that I need in my story, and I can play around with them and bend them to my advantage. I usually change the names, though sometimes keep them the same. For example, Barrack road in Redchurch is mentioned in a few of my books, and this is a real road.

The universe also contains infamous places such as Chaos, the nightclub Danny discovers in Belfield Park when he is a teenager. It plays a large role in the series, and eventually, as an adult, Danny becomes the DJ and owner of the club. In the Holds End trilogy, Chaos is mentioned as the club to play in if you are a new band and want to try and get signed. Bill Robinson’s band eventually get an audition, followed by several gigs at the club, which plays live music on certain nights. They even meet an older version of Danny, who appears briefly in a few scenes.

As you can imagine this is tremendous fun. I love all my characters; they are in fact my best friends. To play with them and move them around this fictional universe I have accidentally created, is the best thing ever. It is starting to feel like a real place, a separate place I can go to when this world creates stress or anxiety. At the moment I am working on the spin-off book to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, so I am in my element and quite addicted to it.

I’m back in the same universe, with some of the same characters and events, and of course, places like Redchurch, Belfield Park and Chaos are all popping up here and there. It’s like having a secret place that is all mine, that I created and am in complete control of. There is something really quite special and exciting about that.

This universe doesn’t have a name. I guess it is just Chantelle’s world, where most of my characters live. There is another universe on the horizon though. I created a town called Black Hare Valley when I recently penned the first draft of a YA supernatural story. It’s having a rest at the moment, but I am very keen and excited to get back to it when the time is right. It really is very separate and different to my other universe and I can’t see any way these characters could link up or cross over with my others, but I do feel like the Black Hare universe could continue to grow. With this one, it would be through time. I have vague plans, depending on how things go, of course, to eventually extend this story with prequels and sequels, set in the same town, the same universe, but at different points in time.

I’m still learning a lot about creating a universe in writing, because I only recently realised that’s what I have done. My top tips so far would be these:

  • be consistent. When writing a new story set in the same universe, you are going to need to go back to the old ones and check you are keeping location, road names etc the same
  • keep an eye on the timeline. For the same reason you need to keep track of place names, you need to make sure events happen at the right time, if you have already mentioned them in other stories.
  • read through previous stories to remind yourself of the characters and to get a feel for them again if they are going to show up somewhere else
  • don’t link up stories or characters for the sake of it. There has to be a point to it, for example, it made sense for Danny to appear in Holds End because Bill is a singer and Danny’s club hires live bands
  • make sure each story works just as well on its own. It is great fun creating a universe where the same characters can link up or appear in each other’s lives at different times, but each story has to stand on its own two feet as well… I’m very conscious of this at the moment with my spin off book. These characters showed up half way through book five and we only had a glimpse of their personalities and back stories. In this book we are seeing how they ended up at that point and got mixed up in Danny’s criminal activities, so there is a lot more back story and character development. And although there are scenes that cross over, I am writing them purely from these characters points of view, as this is their story, not Danny’s.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the universe I didn’t realise I was creating! Has this ever happened to you? If you write, do you enjoy linking your stories up in some way? If you’re a reader, do you like it when you find books that are connected to each other by location or character? Feel free to leave a comment!

One More Writing Project Won’t Hurt…

If you follow this blog you probably already know how many writing projects I tend to work on at the same time. I used to think working on more than one book at a time was a bad thing, but eventually I came to accept that it’s just always going to be this way. Writing truly has me hooked and I just can’t stick to one thing until its done. I like to have a few things juggling around me!

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Currently, those things are: The Day The Earth Turned series, which is in the process of edits and proofreads and I hope to release book one in May 2023. The Fortune’s Well trilogy I co-wrote with Sim Sansford – we hope to release book two next month. The spin-off from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series – about half way through first draft. And Black Hare Valley – finished in rough first draft!

As if this wasn’t enough for me, lately I’ve been getting all sorts of small ideas for small pieces, either poetry, flash fiction or short stories. I would be an idiot to ignore these things when they come to me, so of course I have been writing them down, and would you know it, a new story/poetry collection is already emerging. In the spirit of adding to this collection I recently asked my Facebook page followers to suggest writing prompts to me. I have a pinned post and people have made some amazing and enticing suggestions.

I went with one about an ordinary day becoming an endless day and I had so many different ideas for how to do this, that I have the start of a few different stories I may pursue later. One started off as a post-apocalyptic thing but started going off on a tangent that didn’t fit with the endless day theme. The one I went with actually started life last week as a short story about an adult’s memories of the monsters that lurked at the end of her grandmother’s garden. I will finish that one, but parts of that then grew into a different story about an endless day. I am nearly at the end of it and I will publish it here and on my blog at the end of this month before asking for more ideas from people.

It might sound utterly mad to be adding to my writing workload, but I love playing around with different writing formats, genres and ideas, so it’s impossible to say no. I also think that asking my small but lovely group of followers to make suggestions is a great way to connect with them and involve them in the process. It’s basically asking for writing prompts and choosing the best one each month to respond to!

I should have the finished story for you next week, but in the mean time maybe you would like to make some suggestions for my August challenge? Any ideas welcome! Just leave them in the comments. Maybe a story title, a phrase or sentence or piece of dialogue, images, a certain character or even lyrics from a song.

Thank you for reading, see you next week!

Come Back To What You Know

I’m feeling nostalgic.

I don’t look back on the past with rose-tinted spectacles. I think every decade in human history has been seeped in tragedy, usually man-made, of some kind. But there is something in me at the moment constantly yearning for simpler times.

I wouldn’t do away with the internet or mobile phones, but only for one reason. I’d never sell a single book without either of them!

But I find myself tiring of it all. I suppose everything becomes tiring after a while. Everything loses its shine. Sometimes though, we go back around again, we go full circle and return to things we once turned our backs on.

For me lately, this has been bringing some unexpected comfort in an increasingly fraught, depressing and uncertain world. I’ll just talk about a couple today; things I have returned to and how they are helping me navigate these seemingly endless difficult times.

Walking

I’ve always liked walking. I feel I have some sort of affinity with it, like it is something I am supposed to do. I like how it is so solitary and gives me time to think. So many stories and ideas came from walking when I was a teenager. I thought nothing of walking an hour or more to get to a friend’s house and I hated buses. I would always rather keep walking. I used to run too, mostly in my late teens and my twenties when I got rather caught up in trying to control my figure. But these days, 44 year old me is a bit kinder to myself (most of the time anyway,) and I worry about falling over or hurting my back or my knees. So I think my running days might be over but my walking days have begun again in earnest. I now walk to save money on petrol and I feel good about this. It’s good for my wallet, my body and the planet. I also sort out all my plot holes and writing struggles when I am walking.

Letter writing

During the lockdowns of the pandemic my eldest sister who lives in a very rural location a few hours away from us, started writing letters and cards to my youngest son. He loved this and wrote back every time and they have kept this up ever since. A few months back I decided to join in, so now me and my sister converse through letters. Of course, we text, phone and Whatsapp each other too! But there is something so calm and patient about writing a letter, posting it and waiting for one to fly back to you. Whenever I receive one, I wait for a special moment to read it. I need peace, quiet, a comfy spot and a cup of tea. I have also started writing letters to two friends. It’s not something you do instantly. It’s something you wait until you have time for. And then you go back over everything that has happened since you last wrote and make sure you also address and respond to all their news. This all takes time and that’s what is so nice about it. Knowing that someone took time over doing something for you, knowing the extra effort that went into it – it really is lovely and I feel like people talk differently in letters too. It’s interesting.

Wearing a watch

I got my first mobile phone when I was 19. I think that must have been the last time I wore a watch. I can remember that last watch too because I had it all through my teens and I really loved it. It was a chunky silver Timex and rather than a strap and a buckle to fasten, it was attached to a stretchy silver bracelet. Weird, I know, but it made taking it on and off easier! Gradually it started falling apart and I really missed it. I think I kept the clock head for a while somewhere. After that, phones took over and recently I realised that whenever I need to check the time, I check my phone. I think we all do. But carrying a phone everywhere is getting annoying. They’re not just phones anymore, are they? They’re mini computers we lug around with us, which means we have the entire world in our pocket weighing us down. It’s annoying, especially in the summer when you are less likely to have good pockets! I also thought about all the post-apocalyptic TV I watch and books I read. In that eventuality, phones become useless but watches return. My husband bought me a lovely watch for my birthday and I’m in love with it. I absolutely adore it. I don’t have to take my phone everywhere anymore and I am prepared for the end of the world. Win, win!

Childlike curiosity

There are so many things I don’t know about. I am 44 years old and I still can’t identify that many birds, trees, or plants for example and I know barely anything about the Universe or space… As adults I think we stop being curious. We stop asking questions. I am sure you have all experienced the incessant questioning from a young child who wants to know why, why, why…. I am trying to get back to that. If I don’t know what something is, I am trying to find out. Mostly nature based things! For example, I have a plant identifying app that has helped me learn the names of a lot more plants and trees lately. And I just got this cool app that records and identifies birdsong for you! It’s really addictive.

Collecting stones

Walk around my house and I can guarantee you will find a pile of stones in every room thanks to my youngest son. Like most young children he still has the habit of picking up natural objects that look or feel nice. Sticks and stones mostly. There are sticks everywhere too, though of course really they are guns of various sorts. But stones… I looked the other day and found a pile on the kitchen window sill mixed in with fossils. Another pile on the table. A few more on the side. Some on the stairs. A few in the lounge on the coffee table. A whole gang of them in his room which seem to have been decorated with various spots which apparently mean different things. This stone obsession reminded me that when I was his age I had a whole shoe box of them under my bed. I wasn’t as good as he is at finding cool ones though! He really does have an eye for it. The other day I emptied his school bag and found a whole pile of smooth brown pebbles at the bottom. They were all almost identical in size and colour. Today he brought home a big stone which had been sheared in half at some point, so we could see inside it. My son is right about stones. They are fascinating – apparently pebbles on a beach can be as old as 4 billion years! It’s not like we often get the chance to hold something so ancient in our hands… They can be beautiful, colourful, smooth, jagged, tiny, large. I recently found one with a sad face but then I lost it again, which was sad. Anyway, thanks to my son, my love of collecting random stones just to hold them for a bit has been well and truly rekindled.

Longhand writing

If you follow my social media writing updates, you will know that I often write in longhand. This is also something I have returned to. As a kid I wrote in notebooks of all sizes and shapes. I wrote on anything I could. I was very excited when I got my first electric typewriter! Years later, and it’s all laptops and Word and Google Docs and so on. I still use these things, but I love starting a story off in a notebook. It means I can carry it about with me, write in it at weird times, like when cooking dinner or waiting in the car. Sometimes I end up writing the whole thing in a notebook, just like Black Hare Valley I blogged about last week. Sometimes I’ll get so far then start typing it up. Short stories and poems nearly always start their lives in notebooks these days. There is something about holding a pen in my hand, scratching words out on paper that returns me to me, that makes me feel more connected to it.

What about you? Are there any ‘old-school’ things you have returned to? Or any you never gave up in the first place? I’d love to know so feel free to leave a comment!