Writers, writing

Guest post: Mariëlle S. Smith on her new release

Thanks to Mariëlle for coming onto my blog to talk about her new release. I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader’s copy and it’s amazing, a great book – lots of interesting prompts and self-reflection. Highly recommend this one!

What is the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner about? 

52 Weeks of Writing is a journal and planner for writers that will help you plan, track, reflect on, and check in with your progress and the goals you’ve set for yourself. Every week, it offers questions, writing prompts, and exercises that are designed to help you dig deep and find out the truths about why you aren’t the writer you want to be yet. 

How is the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner different from everything else out there? 

What’s different is that it doesn’t focus on a specific goal, such as becoming better at marketing your books, or planning your social media channels for the year ahead. 52 Weeks of Writing is all about your personal wishes, needs, and goals. It provides a safe space where you can figure out what it is you truly want (once you stop looking at what everyone else is doing), and how to get there considering the realities of your day-to-day life. We all have different aims and desires and none of us carry exactly the same responsibilities. This author journal and planner will help you focus on your situation and on what you want to achieve in this lifetime. 

Why did you create the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner

52 Weeks of Writing reflects everything I’ve learned over the past several years as a writing coach, editor, and writer. As a writing coach, I know that coaches don’t come cheap and that not everyone has the means to hire one. Of course, no book can stand-in for a human coach, but this author journal and planner is my attempt to bridge the gap between hiring a writing coach and trying to figure it out all on your own the best I can. 

Who will benefit from the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner?

Writers who are fed up with themselves and are ready to figure out once and for all why they keep getting in their own way. 

Get the ebook

Get the paperback

Are you ready to become the writer you were always meant to be? 
52 Weeks of Writing will get you cracking by making you plan, track, reflect on, and check in with your progress and goals an entire year long. 
52 Weeks of Writing will help you dig deep by offering questions and writing prompts designed to unravel whatever truths about your writing you’re ready for. 
52 Weeks of Writing will keep you inspired by delivering a thought-provoking writing quote every week. 

  • Do you struggle with setting goals that reflect your daily reality? 
  • Do you want to practise breaking goals down into manageable chunks? 
  • Would you like more insight into your writing habit(s) and figure out why you keep getting in your own way? 
  • And do you want to create a sustainable writing practise that honours your needs and desires as a writer? 

Then the 52 Weeks of Writing: Author Journal and Planner is for you. 

52 Weeks of Writing brings together every lesson Mariëlle S. Smith has learned as a writing coach and writer. Wary as she is of comparisonitis and unhealthy competition, this author journal and planner was designed to help writers develop and fine-tune a practice that works for them. 

If you’re ready to get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be, pick up your copy of 52 Weeks of Writing today. 

About

Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor, (ghost) writer, and custom retreat organiser. Born in the Netherlands and raised by her Dutch mother and Scottish dad, she moved to the island of Cyprus in February 2019 to focus on her coaching, editing, and writing practice. 

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fiction, Writers

The Good, the Bad and the Dad is now live!

The fourth book of the Fairyland Romances, the Good, the Bad and the Dad is set at Christmas and features Haru – father of the fan favourite Minako from previous books. Haru is a widower, a translator and a struggling novelist and a Fairyland theme park devotee.

When he attracts the attention of not just a handsome prince, but a rogueish pirate at the theme park and out of it, his life becomes a lot more complicated.

It was fun to write this one and pack it full of cameos from the characters in the previous books, as well as lots of fluffy Christmas touches to warm the heart.

buy book number one: Rival Princes
Book number two: Mischief and Mayhem
Book number three: Recipe for Chaos

Writers, writing

Guest writers series: an interview with Christopher Ruz

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Christopher Ruz?

I’m Ruz, an Aussie author, teacher, and one-time stuntman. The original, more handsome Ruz is buried in the potato patch. Don’t cry for him. He died like a punk.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?
Harry Potter houses are an artificial mechanism used to divide students ideologically and turn them against one another so they won’t band together and overthrow their oppressive wizard and witch overlords!

Also, Ravenclaw.

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?
I always dive in without thinking. Who has time to think? Huh. Maybe I’m not a Ravenclaw at all.

What got you into writing?

The Lord of the Rings BBC radioplay adaptation. My Dad used to play it for me on long car rides, and I fell in love with those mysterious worlds and grand battles of good versus evil. Some of my first stories were LOTR fanfiction when I was about six. They weren’t real good.

Why do you write now?
I’ve got too many worlds in my head! There’s something special about being able to share them with the folk around me, a feeling of sharing the greatest adventure of your life. I can’t get that feeling anywhere else. So, I put these worlds and characters and conflicts on paper, and hope everyone else enjoys them as much as me.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

IT. I borrowed it from the school library when I was absolutely not supposed to, and read it late at night when my parents wouldn’t catch me. It was dark and dangerous like no other book I’d read before, and it sunk its hooks in deep. I reread it every few years, and it’s still special to me.

What are you reading right now?

Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, Monstress by Marjorie Liu, and The Trespassers by Meg Mundell.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?
Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun changed the way I saw storytelling. Elements of it seep into literally everything I create.

Stephen King’s IT, of course, seeded everything I write with malevolence. Finally, Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Looking back on Xanth now, it’s weirdly misogynist and creepy and not something I’d recommend for young teens (or anyone). But for teen-me, Xanth showed me how a world could be ridiculous and compelling at the same time. It taught me to take risks.

Creative writing in primary school, what did you write about? Can you remember any stories?

SO MANY STORIES! They were mostly inspired by the videogames I played at the time, so I wrote a lot of Wolfenstein fanfic. My mother was horrified (and fair enough, too). But I was also already dipping my toes into horror, with a lot of Goosebumps inspired stories of children my age being stalked by werewolves and bog-beasts.

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Current events plus personal drama plus horrifying imagery generally takes me somewhere fun. For example, my current WIP is about a North Korea-esque hermit state, the gigantic floating corpse of a dead god, and destroying incels. I have more ideas in the bank than I can deal with right now.

Do you believe in a divine muse?
I don’t. My muse is sitting down in front of Scrivener and doing the work. I believe the ideas and the energy comes when you put yourself in a professional mindset.

What does your physical writing space look like?

My office is quiet and cold. My monitor is haloed with post-it notes covered in new ideas, potential plot twists, and character sketches. My desk is a travesty of old teacups and unfiled paperwork.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

This could apply to any of my first four novels. I have a particular attachment to Alpha Slip, which was a near future cyberpunk psychological thriller about a psychiatrist diving through (and being trapped in) layers of a POW’s memories in order to extract key information on military crimes. I finished the final draft two days before the trailer for Inception dropped, and I was so disheartened that I never opened the doc again.

Favourites:

Star Wars or Star Trek?

It used to be Trek. Then it became Wars. Now I’m firmly on the fence. Fingers crossed for Picard!

Hogwarts or Narnia?

They’re both nightmares of child endangerment! Can I choose Destin instead?

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

Japan. A nice town somewhere in the south, where the wind is sweet and the evenings are quiet, and I could eat well and write all day and pat random cats.

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

Shatner’s cover of Common People.

Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

Rammstein’s Auslander. The tiles amplify my naturally weak baritone.

The weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

I’m an artist in my spare time, mostly focusing on life studies and portraits. I don’t know if that counts as weird, though. I also paint miniatures, even though I don’t play any tabletop games that actually use them. I just like the zen calm that comes with all those tiny details.


My bio:  Teacher, designer, and one-time stuntman (don’t ask), Christopher Ruz is a rabid fan of fantasy, science fiction, body horror and crime thrillers. Born in Hong Kong to well-travelled parents, Ruz was fortunate enough to live in South Africa and Vienna before returning to live and work in Australia. His love of dark fiction began when a worn copy of Pet Semetary caught his eye at a local flea market. He bought it with his pocket money and hid it under his bed so his parents wouldn’t see. He was eight years old, and has been a little odd ever since.

Ruz

Ruz can also do twelve chinups. Neat!

His best known works are The Ragged Blade (Parvus Press, 2019) and his ongoing horror series Rust. Meanwhile, he publishes the Olesia Anderson series of pulpy spy novellas under the pseudonym D.D. Marks. He has sold stories to Andromeda Spaceways and Apollo’s Daughters, has beaten the grueling Immerse or Die challenge twice, and was a finalist in the 2017 Aurealis Awards. When not writing, Ruz teaches art and design at a west-Melbourne high school and works at boardgame conventions across Australia.

Ruz’s website

Writers, writing

Boosted productivity via Bullet journal genius

I’ve been using a bullet journal this year, and I’ve found it useful in a lot of ways. Specifically I’ve been loving tracking my word counts/pages edited for each day. This is an example month spread from May. I used to just have words across the whole page, but then I realised I wanted to have editing and learning and things accounted for as well.

So, here’s May with the central spindle date margin, editing etc on the left and wordcount on the right. The running total wordcount for the whole project is on the far right.

I usually try to focus on one project, but you can see I jumped around some (and did work on two projects in one day towards the end… ) I also had a full week of learning, but it gives you a general idea.

But then for the month of August, I tried this system from youtuber Garrett Robinson:

Suddenly my hours were focused. I was less likely to get distracted, or mooch around on other tabs on my laptop. I would be tempted to but just say to myself ‘no, this is my hour to do X’ and apparently that was all my brain needed to really knuckle down. So to speak.

Here’s my running totals for August. You can see that my daily word counts have shot up, I’ve been more focused on a single project, and my pages edited have increased as well. August 11th is, as far as I can tell, my most productive words day ever. It’s a heady feeling.

More than that, I wrote 25k words in one week. I think my previous record was a very exhausting 20k week which resulted in almost nothing the week after. With this system I was still energised, I wanted to keep writing, but I knew my editing on another project was my priority so I jumped into that instead.

This last weeked I travelled to Christchurch and went to the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, so my word count’s been a bit all over the place. But I learned a lot and have a nice new list of actions for various projects, etc so. It’s all good.

I love this bullet journal tracker, it really really works for me, and I recommend anyone looking to up their productivity gives it a go, for one month at least. I’ll definitely be using it for September and churning out some serious words.

Writers, writing

Writing process? part five- the editing/redrafting

In a lot of ways editing is my least favourite part of the process, but at the same time I do enjoy it, and I do like seeing that my skills in editing have improved.

So the first thing is that I was under the impression you need to let a manuscript ‘rest’ in a drawer for 6 months to a year, so that you can gain distance from the work and let your sub conscious work out plot problems or whatever.

This is, to put it bluntly, crappola.

You can edit something right away. Or you can wait a week if there are puzzles that need fixing up, or you can set it aside. But know that on some level the setting it aside for a time is you avoiding the next step. Remember that the resistance in your brain is trying to stop you succeeding, and telling yourself ‘no, I must not look at it for X time’ is a really easy way to never take the next step.

That said, a little distance can be nice, and sometimes you want distance. If it’s a particularly problematic manuscript for example.

Anyway, assuming you have let precisely the right time elapse, here’s some tips on how I wrangle the editing process.

Weasel words – Or filtering words. These are words which find their way into your writing but can easily be dropped or rephrased in order to make the sentence stronger. For example: That, just, looked, up, down – you’ll have your own words that you’re using or overusing, and a quick Ctrl + F + search for that word will highlight how many times in your manuscript you have it. Whittle them out, rephrase the sentence and see how your prose improves.

Further reading: Filtering words , words and phrases to discard

Beta readers – Beta readers are amazingly magical unicorns who like your work enough to read it and give you feedback on it. If you find good, reliable beta reader do whatever you can to keep them. I have a brilliant one who keeps track of plot holes, points out when a character’s turn of phrase doesn’t sound like them, and also peppers the manuscript with compliments and “Oh my God, I know these feels!”
Besides giving feedback on a draft, you can also bounce ideas off a trusted beta reader, such as “what if I made this guy the villain?” and see what they think.

Actual professional editors – these are worth their weight in gold, and although it can be a little daunting to pay someone a large chunk of cash when you’re starting out, the difference a good editor can make to your manuscript will definitely pay itself off in time. You learn more about writing craft, your own weaknesses as a writer and new techniques that can improve your next draft.

Proofreaders – different to an editor. An editor will look at characterisation, tension highs and lows, ways to improve the story itself. A proofreader will look for grammar errors and typos. Freaking genius, because even if you’ve done this yourself you’re going to miss things. You get so used to your own words that your brain skims over the details.

Editing software – I love Grammarly, but there’s also Hemingway, ProWriteAid, even the spell check in Google docs or Word. They’ll all pick up things you might have missed. Grammarly and Hemmingway will also pick up sentences which are too complex, or incidents of passive voice.

So I’ll generally do a few passes, one searching for my weasel words, one with beta reader feedback, then send it to the professional editor and do another pass with their feedback. Then run it through grammarly and word spell/grammar check and made the changes those programmes find which I also agree with.

And then Proofreader time, which I do last before uploading to Amazon. Amazon itself will also find a typo or two sometimes!

So editing is time consuming and it’s hard, and I don’t really like it, but it’s necessary and it’s a great way to upgrade my writing skills.

You’re never going to get a perfect, typo-free and perfectly punctuated manuscript, so at some point you have to say ‘fuck it, that’ll do’ or you’ll be polishing that thing forever. Don’t do that, accept it’s as good as it’ll get and let it go.

Writers, writing

Writing Process? Part four – the perspecacity

Okay, so let’s say you’ve read and applied the previous posts, you’ve started something and you had momentum for a while. But then something came up – maybe a cool new TV show was released and you’ve marathoned that for days. Or maybe you got sick or work got intense and you haven’t had the headspace to write.

It happens to everyone.

I find around the 8 – 10 thousand word mark I often trail off and think about a new, more exciting project I could be working on. I’ll can always come back to this one later, right?

How do you keep with the same thing?

Honestly? you just have to be super strict on yourself. There’s always going to be a time when you struggle to motivate. You have to find what motivates you. Here’s some ideas, but you have to find your own golden ticket…

  • Read through the plan for the book and remind yourself of the neat stuff to come
  • Write your back of the book blurb. Writing the blurb is so depressing and difficult I’d rather do almost anything but write it
  • Reconnect with your reason for writing – the most motivation I had was at the start of the year when I was in a job I actively disliked. I hated having to go into the office, and I wanted a way out – writing could be the way out, but I have to complete manuscripts for that to work
  • Daydream about your potential future readers, and how much they might love your story
  • Bribe yourself. I really want to play my new video game, but I have to get words down. Well, if I get X many words today, then I can take a break and play for half an hour. Then I can write more and ‘earn’ more time. Then if you get into the flow of writing, you can put the reward off a bit longer and earn bonus extra words. Brains are easy to trick sometimes!
  • Some sort of tracker or progress recorder, which has worked especially well for me lately (more on that soon)

It’s hard work.

You have to put the next words down or the thing will never get finished. But just think of the end point – if you get to the end of the manuscript then you will have finished a manuscript! and that’s pretty miraculous, really.

You just gotta want it and keep on wanting it as hard as you can. Then you do the work and keep on doing the work. Then one day you can type ‘the end’ and feel like the big goddamn hero that you are.

There’s no foolproof method here, it just comes down to understanding your own reasons for writing and what motivates you. If you want to write for money then of course you have to have completed manuscripts to publish. If you want to write to tell your story and share it with people – you have to have it finished to do that.

If you have a way to force yourself back into a WIP when you’re in that ‘fallen out of love’ stage please comment and let me know!

wellness, Writers, writing

Mischief and Mayhem – and editing and deadlines

In all my research about how to make money from writing, I’ve learned the term ‘rapid release‘. This term just means, don’t make readers wait an age for your next book. Put them out regularly so people can get momentum from reading one, then the next, then the next.

I figured I could do that, since I had three manuscripts already drafted* which are all in the same series and are interconnected. I had the start of the fourth book started and ideas percolating for more.

(*Careful readers will notice I said drafted and not ‘ready’)

Here’s where I risked failing: too short a time between books.

Or rather, too short a time to edit. I’m a fast editor when I have the time and the right frame of mind. And giving myself just three and a half weeks would have been fine if that had been the only thing going on in my life. As it was I went to Rarotonga for eleven days in that time, and in Rarotonga wifi is rare and expensive. We had enough to be online maybe five minutes a day, and downloading large files of edits on Google docs wasn’t an option.

Obviously it wasn’t all just on me either, my editor has a life and other demands on her which means she can’t just hand over pages when I want them – and I wouldn’t expect her to! She’s a great communicator, and we managed time frames just fine. It was just tight.

What it meant was, as soon as I got back from Rarotonga (July 17th) I treated editing as my full time job. I’d already done 50ish pages of the manuscript, so it was 130ish pages I had to get through, and my deadline was July 23rd, which was the last possible day I can upload to Amazon and not mess up the pre-order.

A tight time frame to be sure, but doable. Just not without stress. But I love my editor, she makes her corrections and notes clear and easy to understand, she gets what I’m going for, she cares about my characters and she inserts teaching moments in her comments. Seriously, it’s brilliant.

So sitting down and committing myself to editing full time was easy enough for two days until…

I got a cold.

Let me tell you the last time I had a cold… it was probably this time last year. I have largely been outside office spaces, and resting well and avoiding sickness making places, and this means I just haven’t caught colds. When you haven’t had a cold for a while, getting a cold makes you extra pathetic. Well, maybe it just does that to me.

So I was in that weird space where making myself a hot drink seems too hard, and I’m crying so hard over the new Queer Eye episodes that I can’t breathe through my nose, and my eyes hurt from behind and I’m still focusing everything I have on editing.

Oh, also I had to do a full day shift at zinefest… where I needed to be bubbly and interact with people and hold my own head up.

The good news is I got the editing done, and I’m confident that the story of Cody, the sarcastic and mischievious security guard, and Dean, the manic pixie dream boy who runs a roller coaster, is a good one. They’re sweet and funny and there’s some darkness and some triumph, and there’s two recipes in back in case anyone was curious…

and Monday was entirely spent on formatting and checking ISBNs and Anna going through and re-formatting all the text conversations by hand because you have to have those in san serif but Vellum the formatting software doesn’t handle that automatically…

But it’s all done. It’s uploaded, and as soon as I get the paperback cover from my cover artist, the paperback will be available as well and I can’t wait for people to read it!

preorder now

Order now

So my lesson is that rapid release is all well and good, but maybe be further along in the process than I was before you set up your pre-orders. Life gets in the way, and bodies are fragile. But having a good system of people around you is absolutely invaluable.

So, in conclusion, I’ve set the release date for book three to 21st of September, so instead of one month I have two months to edit and update and format and do all the things to get it ready to launch.