Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Different Sides of Critiquing

I wanted to hold off on this post until I’d read Jessica’s critiques on my first chapter for Resisting Wonderland, and it completely changed what I was going to write about. So sorry if this is a little underprepared.

I’m facing a dilemma in that two of my critters had completely alternate reactions to my first chapter. I’m incredibly grateful that both took the time to pour over my MS and give me feedback on what I needed to do. So again, Jessica, many thanks for the time you’ve put into writing your critiques.

My writing partner loved it. She loved the imagery, related to Alice’s character, and felt completely immersed in the world I was beginning to create. There were quite a few things she pointed out and advised for me to alter or change, but other than this, her reaction to it was positive.

Then I read Jessica’s critiques. She tore it completely apart. I’m thankful she did, as she made me question a lot about the structure of the first chapter. It has to be effective and strong, but at the moment, it isn’t. In my first draft, the beginning was something else entirely. Slowly, it’s coming around to something I want it to be. But as Jessica pointed out, there’s still an incredible amount of work to be done.

The dilemma I’m facing is how to incorporate both critters' advice while still trying to achieve what I myself want from the chapter. At this stage, it’s looking like a complete rewrite. I’m not tackling that just yet. Two other people have my MS, and I’m pending their feedback. I would love to hear alternate opinions before I do any more extensive work so I can take everything into account.

My experience with the contrasting critiques has taught me a few things. For one, it’s made me amazingly grateful that there is a multitude of people who are willing to help out with feedback and critique. One person is never enough and individual opinions can differ.

Another thing the experience has taught me is I handle criticism surprisingly well. A few years ago, I would have been horrified at my work being torn to pieces. Now I’m just glad there is somebody who cares about my work enough to tear it to pieces, and help me achieve what they already know I can. Critter faith is an invaluable thing, even if my current MS isn't in a fantastic state.

In the last few years, I’ve always told myself to take criticism as a compliment. Somebody cares enough to pay attention to what I’m doing wrong. Even if it is hard for you to deal with criticism, try to look at it in a positive light. An experience means nothing if you don’t take something from it.

Have you ever had to tackle criticism in writing, and if you have, how did you deal with it?

Friday, 21 January 2011

Tessa's Birthday Blogfest

I'll have a longer post up in the next two days, I just wanted to take part in a blogfest as I haven't in a while, and I had the perfect scene for it.

It features two characters which some of you have already read about, only this excerpt is from my first novel, Resisting Wonderland. I read the feedback from my writing partner earlier this evening, and I have to say it made my night. The things she said and commented on were wonderful, and it made me feel fantastic about my MS, even if I still have a long way to go.

In celebration of Tessa's birthday and this fact, I thought I'd share a sweet scene between Alice and Elliot from Resisting Wonderland. I hope you enjoy it; feel free to make any comments and criticism - I'll be happy for any feedback.


“If this is Wonderland,” I said, my voice cracking as I spoke for the first time since I’d entered the room, “you are the only source of sanity.”

“Calling this world Wonderland is the only way I can accept it," Elliot said, resting his head against the wall as sat next to me on the floor. "This isn’t sane. This isn’t logical.”

“You’re right. I can’t resist Wonderland anymore. It’s too hard.”

He gave a worn smile. “I think you’ve fought it for far too long.”

I sighed heavily. “I know I have.”

“Can I give you something?” he said suddenly, and I smiled.

“More advice?”

“No, I was thinking something more tangible.”

He reached inside his pocket and pulled out a glimmer of silver. Opening his hand, I saw a long silver chain, and in the centre an ornate silver butterfly with swirling wings and three beautiful blue stones.

“Yesterday, I went past a jewellery shop with the window shattered. I saw this and couldn’t resist taking it. Everything about it matched you.”

Gently, I picked up the necklace, lacing it through my fingers so the butterfly could hang in the air. “It’s . . . stunning. Absolutely stunning. I love it.”

I stared at the necklace, awestruck by its beauty, amazed at his perception, and unable to believe how much I needed him. It was moments like these that saved me.

“Want me to put it on?” he said, Elliot’s fingers reaching for the necklace. I curled his fingers into mine as he did, showing how much both him and the gift meant to me. We only stared, caught in each other’s eyes, unable to see past them.

For both of us, all we had left was each other.

When our hands unlinked, he carefully took the necklace and leaned closer to me, his cheek brushing mine as he did the clasp. The butterfly rested below my collarbone, and he kissed my neck once before pulling away to look. Only, instead of the necklace, he only looked in my eyes as he said, “Beautiful.”

I leant into him, his arm going behind me and around the edge of my waist as I rested my head on his shoulder. “Ash is wrong,” I said quietly, “I do care. I care too much.”

“I know.”

We didn’t speak or move for a long time, needing only the other to keep us content in our Wonderland.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Changing Process

For a long while, I’ve been completely focused on editing. On Sunday, I finally managed to finish another round of edits on Resisting Wonderland, and I’ve sent my MS to a few test readers. I’m nervous, but I’m excited to hear what they have to say about the project I’ve been raising since August 2009. But that isn’t what this blog is about.

Since I finished my edits, I decided to start my long awaited third novel for the Resistance series - it will complete the trilogy. I’ve been waiting to start it for such a long time, and even with my extended break, I expected to jump straight back into my usual writing patterns. For some reason, that didn’t happen.

At first, I was confused. I thought writing was like a bicycle, and that I would never forget. I hadn’t worked on a manuscript since December, and even though this was the longest break I’d ever taken between MSs since I started writing my first series, I still thought it would be natural. As I was writing, something kept tugging at me. It was making me stutter and start in my writing. I thought it might be how much rested on this final novel, or my nervousness at sitting down to write it.

It took a whole day for me to realise what exactly had been bugging me about writing. I was still stuck in my editing mode. When I was writing yesterday, I kept thinking about sentences, grammar, dialogue – I was over-thinking. As a rule, I don’t over-think these things in a first draft; I work on them during editing, as I’m only trying to get the novel in a basic shape. Recently I’ve spent so much time editing and focusing on that mindset, I was putting pressure on myself when I didn’t have to. I needed to change my process.

As soon as I realised this, I tried again to work on my MS. This time, there was no resistance or restraint. All I did was type the words which my characters wanted me to. I thought about the narrative and nothing else. It worked wonders. It took me less than an hour to complete the chapter, when it had taken so much back and forth to type the night previously. I relaxed into writing, and I changed my thoughts from editing to writing.

The processes of writing and editing are two separate things. I have two entirely different systems in how I deal with each of them, and trying to edit whilst I write simply does not work for me. I have to have that first draft down before I try to tackle those small details. I need to see the bigger picture.

Hopefully, writing in that aspect will be much easier for me now I’ve realised where I was going wrong. It’s my sixth novel, and the first novel of the new year. It’s going to be an incredible one to write. My only vice is how emotional it will be, as I’ve already found out. The first chapter almost made me cry. There are events in this novel, and the way Alice deals with what has already happened in the previous novels, which are difficult for me to write about. It’s her pain, and since it’s in first person perspective – as well as holding a special affinity for her as my first ever MC – it’s hard to be so involved and not feel her pain as I write it. I want this novel to be as true to her character and the plot as possible. Basically, I have to stay true to how Alice’s story will end. If that means a few tears along the way, I’ll gladly keep a stack of tissues on hand.

So, I have two questions for you. Firstly, have you ever had trouble separating the different processes of writing? And secondly, have you ever gotten emotional when writing?

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Novels Which Influenced You

I wanted to post about something reading related, seeing as I’m currently tackling my stack of to-be-reads and as it was something I hadn’t touched on in a while.

Some books you can’t help but be influenced by. We all have our favourites – the ones we re-read over and over again which we can’t forget. When a book makes an impact on me like this, it always makes me realise how much I still have to learn about writing. Whether it’s the way in which the characters have grabbed me, the finesse of the plot or even just the way the novel has been written, I always take something away from reading books like these.

This is a rundown of my top five influential books, starting from the earliest to the latest I’ve read.

1. The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. I cannot say enough about this YA series. It was incredible when I first read it, and it’s still incredible so many years later. This was one of the first novels I read which had dystopian elements, along with the extreme focus on beauty. I loved the way Westerfeld built up his dystopian society around Tally, and how her own life revolved around it. The characters were amazing and the pacing was perfect on all three books. Though I didn’t favour the fourth spin-off, Extras, as much as the original trilogy, it was still another great read from Scott Westerfeld. After this I collected most of his novels, and I’ve loved pretty much all of them. The Uglies series is the embodiment of dystopian YA done right. It’s what I myself aspire to achieve.

2. The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer. Wait. Before you call me every name under the sun and swear never to read my blog again, let me explain. I read this when it first came out in 2005, when I was in my teens. Hardly anybody had heard of it, though by the time I’d finished it, I had convinced most of my friends to read it too. The reason why this was influential to me was that it showed me how one novel could completely capture my thoughts. I fell in love with the characters and plot, and although I don’t share that insane enthusiasm for it now, I can’t completely hate the series. When I was younger, it honestly reached me and made me think. I even started writing fan-fiction about it, which was one of my first ventures into more than a few pages of creative writing. It was the beginning of a long road. I can’t help but be grateful for that.

3. 1984 by George Orwell. This blew my mind. It was sophisticated, developed, dystopian and political – it was the book I had been searching for without knowing it was everything I wanted. Similar to Uglies, I was fascinated with the way Orwell’s world had been built around Winston, how he fought against his totalitarian society and his overall struggle to change. The post-modernist end was amazing. I didn’t expect it at all, and I think Orwell gave us a truthful ending. I loved this book, and for a long while after, I shaped my own writing around it.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. When I’d begun to move away from my obsession with 1984 and dystopia, this came along and made me even more devoted to the genre. The violence and brutality of the novel was strangely beautiful. The way Collins made you feel for the characters and drew you into the world – and arena itself – was a fantastic experience. I devoured this book; I couldn’t help but sing its praises. Once again, this was YA dystopia done utterly right. My one disappointment, as I couldn’t help blogging about when it released last summer, was Mockingjay. The plot wasn’t up to the standards I had expected after the brilliance of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. People had mixed reactions on this final novel, so while I’m glad some people loved it, the novel just didn’t sit well with me.

5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read this last year, and it officially replaced 1984 as one of my favourite novels. Recently, I finished reading one of her earlier works, The Fountainhead, and wasn’t disappointed. Again, I blogged about this soon after I finished it. The first thing which I loved about this book was the prose. It was a style of writing which I had come only to expect in poetry. To me, it seemed beautiful, intricate, delicate, and despite the overuse of punctuation in some places, I fell in love with it. Then I fell in love with the characters. Rand had me completely under her spell; I loved every part of her plot and the way the novel unfolded. I was amazed at how interwoven it was. Her scenes always found a way to link in later, something which wasn’t quite developed with The Fountainhead. There is a reason Atlas Shrugged is said to be her greatest work. Rand has writing down to an art form in this, and it changed my entire perspective for a time. It made me realise what qualities I should strive for in myself and what standards I should set. This novel honestly inspired me. It’s the closest book I’ve ever read to being perfect.

The reason these novels influenced me and my writing so much is how they drew me into the novel itself. They gave me characters I loved, they made me feel, they took me along the plot as if I myself were experiencing it. No matter how varied they might be, each one of these novels taught me something about writing and what I wanted to achieve in a novel as a writer. Though I may have grown apart from some of the novels now, I’ll always hold a small affinity for them. You never forget your favourites.

What novels or series have influenced you over the years?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Writing and Driving

The other day I remembered something from learning how to drive, and I think the same concept can be applied in writing. Go with me on this. There is a point, even if the two topics seem completely unrelated.

I’ll take you back to when I was learning how to drive. I'd had over ten lessons, and one lesson I set out to try and get most things – if not everything – right. Although I hadn’t been doing too badly up until then, I kept making silly mistakes, and I constantly went wrong on the same things. On that one day, I wanted to be perfect.

I had an awful lesson. Everything that could have gone wrong in that lesson did. I was trying to stop making these mistakes and to do better, and whenever I screwed up I would get even angrier with myself. Near the end of the lesson, my instructor told me I looked exhausted. He was right. Though he had laughed off everything and hadn’t let it get to him, I had. I felt like a failure. I went home and cried my eyes out about how awful a lesson it had been.

Due to booking the lessons the previous week, I had another driving lesson the next day. Despite being upset about yesterday's events, I told myself I couldn’t avoid going straight back into the driving seat, and I refused to let it burden me. It was a new day, and I went into the lesson expecting nothing of myself or the way the lesson would pan out.

That lesson was one of the best ones I’d ever had. I wasn’t frustrated or angry with myself; I made hardly any mistakes; I was calmer and surprisingly more confident than before. I knew I was a good driver. Yesterday was just one of those days, and my driving instructor told me exactly the same thing. When we got out of the car at the end of the lesson, he told me he’d expected my confidence to be broken. He was surprised I’d had the courage to get straight back in the car and move on.

Everybody has those days, the ones where everything has to go wrong. After that lesson, I became a better, more confident driver. I still made mistakes, and although I became irritated with myself sometimes, I didn't let it affect me. A skiing accident shattered my confidence in my abilities when I was younger and I wasn’t going to have the same thing happen again.

Now, here’s where this relates to writing. Sometimes, everything you want to go right in a manuscript goes completely wrong. Whether it’s a certain scene, the plot, or a character who refuses to do what you want – things go wrong. You make mistakes. But you can’t swear off writing because of it. You can’t decide to give up; if you want to get anywhere in publishing, you have to be determined. Making all those mistakes – even if you hated every second of it – will help you. Though it may not stop you from making the same mistake later, the experience will teach you how to avoid them next time. The awful mistakes you made in the past will make you a better writer in the future.

In driving, and in writing, occasionally it has to get worse before it gets any better. You have to have an awful lesson to have a great one. You have to write a horrible scene to write a better one later. The thing to remember is you can’t give up. Face the problem directly, instead of being too scared to make the same mistake when you try again. Looking back, you might even be grateful for it.

Has anybody else had a similar experience with writing?

Friday, 7 January 2011


I haven’t been present much in the blogosphere recently for a number of reasons. Along with my temperamental internet connection – which is hopefully fixed – I’ve been taking a small break from writing, editing and blogging in general. It won’t last for long. I’ve been better with checking my Google Reader, as earlier in the week I wasn’t keeping up to date at all. For my lack of comments on blogs I’ve missed, I’m sorry.

But I’m not sorry for taking a break. I’ve had a busy week returning back to work, going on a trip to the theatre, lacking sleep, and frankly, I’m exhausted. This weekend I’ll be able to finish editing Part Two and Three of Resisting Wonderland and send the MS to my first test readers. Then I’ll probably take another week or two off.

I need this break. I’ve been working almost continuously on the Resistance series since last summer. With the initial edits over for RW, and the first two drafts written, along with my side project that wasn’t planned until a month before I started working on it, I’ve spent a large amount of time in my MC’s world.

I need to escape. For a short while, I have to set myself apart from Alice’s world. I’m not tired of it at all, nor am I begrudging to work on the final novel - I can’t wait to work on it, as I’ve said many times in my blog. But if last year has taught me anything, it’s that I cannot keep rushing into projects. I already know that this novel may be difficult to write in places because it will be emotional; I already know I’ll have to manage a lot around it, and more sleep will go amiss; I already know I won’t be able to charge through it like I have some of my earlier novels. I’m expecting a lot from this project, and it isn’t something that can be written quickly, despite how much planning I’ve done for it.

Basically, I need time to prepare myself for jumping into my MC’s world. I’m going to be spending a lot of this year working on the series. At the moment I’m resting, not letting myself think too much about it, and simply enjoying the time I've granted myself off. You could say I’m building up my strength.

While writing isn’t something that is amazingly physical, there is a lot which can affect you. Being so immersed in a project isn’t an easy thing to try and balance with reality. The lines begin to blur. I end up spending half my time thinking about a project and another half actually working on it. I’ve come to expect that when I become deeply involved, and this novel will be no different – actually, I expect to be even more so.

Writing, while a great experience, can be draining. Knowing this makes no impact on how eager I am to begin; it only makes me realise that I need extra time to recharge. Neither creativity or endurance are things which are easily found. I may be impatient in some aspects of my personality, but this I cannot afford to be impatient about. My writing will only suffer for it.

I won’t hesitate to say when I’m beginning my next novel. You might even be able to guess in the tone of my blogs whether or not I’ve started, as I’ll constantly want to get back to it and spend all my free time working on it – which I know I can’t do.

Again, thank you to all the bloggers who commented on my No Kiss Blogfest post. It was the first time I had shown anything of my side project, and one of the first times I had ever shared my projects with anybody other than my writing partner. Your comments meant a lot, and I loved reading your feedback. Thank you all for being so kind and genuinely interested in my characters – it makes me incredibly happy to think other people care about them like I do.

On this subject, I'll ask: have you ever taken a break from a project, and if you have, why did you make the decision to do so?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

No Kiss Blogfest

Today is Frankie’s No Kiss Blogfest! For anybody who isn’t participating, the task is to create a scene or take one from a WIP in which two characters almost kiss.

This is a scene taken from my side project, called Resisting Alice. Alice is my MC in the Resistance series and Elliot is her boyfriend. The twist on the side project is that instead of it being Alice’s point of view on the events in Resisting Wonderland, it is from Elliot’s perspective.

For context, Alice has just discovered somebody in a place she never expected them to be and is panicking in a corridor of a company they’ve snuck into. I’ve taken out a few sentences from the original scene so there aren’t any spoilers.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to crit! Any advice or words about the scene are welcome.


I watched her slide to the ground, worrying about how pale her skin had become in the dim shadow of the corridor. Throwing away any act we had upheld in front of the cameras, I crouched next to her, holding her face near mine so I could try to comfort her.

Her pupils were too wide and her breaths were sharp.

Panic flashed in her eyes, and I did my best to stop it in its tracks. “Alice?”

“How could he do this to me?” she said quietly, already close to tears.

I wasn’t close enough.

I leaned in so we were close enough to kiss, knowing it was the only chance I had to get through to her. She needed reassurance. I didn’t care about danger – all I cared about was Alice.

Whispering so her shuddering breath mingled with my steady one, I said, “He’s protecting you. He still cares about you. Why would he try so hard to convince you if he didn’t? Don’t doubt him yet.”

Her glittering blue eyes closed in weariness. “I can’t believe he’s here. I never thought . . . I wanted to clear his name; I didn’t plan to find him working for them.”

She acted as if it was her fault she’d found him here. Alice was doing what she did best – blaming herself for things she couldn’t possibly control.

“You couldn’t know. He’s alive, isn’t that worth something? You haven’t lost everything. He may be here, but he’s alive, if nothing else. You have two chances in one, to find out the truth and to clear his name. Try to understand.”

“It’s so hard.”

I gave a small smile at the thought of Alice ever giving up on something because it was too hard. From that sentiment, I knew she would try, and that my words were getting through to her. She wouldn’t admit she was struggling unless she planned to combat it. Alice didn’t quit. She didn’t give up. It was a motivation which drove me to insane lengths for her, simply because she deserved nothing less.

“I know it is. All I ask is for you to try. I don’t want to see you walk away from him and regret it for the rest of your life.”

She opened her eyes slightly and drew closer to me. The tears I’d seen earlier glimmering in her eyes had vanished.

This was the only comfort I couldn’t offer her.

I was too aware of time; I was too aware of surveillance; I was too aware that to kiss her here would be almost cruel.

I remembered every kiss we had ever shared. I didn’t want to remember this one and know it stemmed from fear and panic.

I gently traced my fingers across her cheek, catching tears I hadn’t let her shed. “Not here. I don’t want to something so beautiful here. When we escape this place, I promise.”

The door slammed in the corridor. Nicholas had left the office, and we needed to be at the glass door before he was.

I pulled Alice up. Although she didn’t want to, she dropped my hand when we entered the corridor, walking away from her panic and embracing the chance I had told her to take. She wouldn’t regret it.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Writing Resolutions

It’s almost impossible not to think of things I want to achieve this year. I’m not going with typical resolutions. Instead, I’m revolving them around becoming a better writer.

Here’s a rundown of what I want to achieve this year writing-wise.

1. Finish writing the Resistance series. The third novel is outlined and ready to go. It’s the next project on my to-do list, and although I’m taking a small break from writing after the completion of my side project, I will definitely be starting it this month. From my outline, I’m guessing it’s going to be one of the most emotional and maybe even one of the best things I’ve written. I’m incredibly excited for this final end to the series, and I hope my first draft turns out just as amazing as I've planned.

2. Write less. I know I’m defying everything resolution with this. I mean 'write less' in two aspects. For the most part, my first drafts are far too long. Typically, YA novels are in the region of 60,000-80,000 words. I’ve managed to get my first edited novel down to 75,000, but trust me when I say around 60,000 words had to be cut before I got to that point. Thankfully, they all needed to go, and although there are exceptions to this YA rule, I'd rather keep to the general specifications. My side project was the shortest novel I’ve ever written, which came in at roughly 72,000 words. Usually my first draft tops 100,000 words and I want to shorten this when I’m writing so I don’t have to do so much editing afterwards. Also, last year I completed one novel from the year before and wrote four novels from scratch. All those first drafts are waiting to be edited fully. I’m focusing on editing instead of writing and hope to only complete one or two novels this year.

3. Try to gain publishing credentials. I’m going to start being consistent about entering writing competitions and attempting to gain publishing credentials – the sooner I begin, the more time I have to try and build any up before I begin querying and entering the novel publishing process. That definitely won’t be happening this year, but I want to be prepared, and I’d love to see my name in print regardless.

4. Find some writing and critique partners. I’d love to share my work with other people, gain their advice, and help them in any way I can. When I’m editing I need all the opinions I can get to try and make my novel better. Also, I’m sure I would gain some great friends in the process.

5. Edit. Edit. Edit. Basically, I want to edit a lot this year. Which means more printing; more red biros; more hours spent speaking to myself as I say the sentences in my manuscript out loud to see if they sound right. It should be a great year.

There’s a lot I want to achieve this year, but I’m sure I’ll get there. I can’t wait to get my novels edited and completed by the end of this year. Good luck for 2011, and I hope you all have a fantastic writing year.