How To Be The Bestest of All the Writingers

Are you an aspiring writer who has never picked up a book since you pretended to read the pictures in There’s a Hippopotamus on my Roof Eating Cake way back in first grade?

Back then, you decided you would write a classic epic about a hungry grey creature with a dessert problem, and once the Big Five publishers—yes, all of them—contacted you en masse for a trillion dollar book deal, you would savour the taste of all the cakes while lounging in your money pool, and promise to never look at another book again. But the pandemic hit you hard. Now you need to *gasp* write again. As an aspiring writer who runs to the grocery store wearing your trench coat and vaping, clasping your MacBook in one hand and vape pen in the other, you need more ideas. You need a story. You need to remove the ‘aspiring’ out of your authoryness once and for all. You need to be the bestest of all the writingers and authorydoos.

But how? you ask.

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5 Foolproof Ways to Get Writer’s Block

garbage-3259455_960_720You’ve been far too creative for your own good.

Ten days ago, you started Novel3_Draft_Notes.docx in preparation for NaNoWriMo, and BAM! you accidentally morphed into Stephen King and you’re ready to hit the publish button on Amazon Self-Publishing. You’ve written fifty-four blog posts in the last week and now you don’t need to think of another idea ever again.

Your brain is in creative overdrive, you dream only about your keyboard while pretending your pillow is your laptop, and the ideas are exploding everywhere, including that presentation you’re showing for work. Now your workmates are questioning why the latest Gone Girl-esque thriller is apparently the best way to improve your company’s budget.

You need a quick solution. You need writer’s block and you need it fast before your overwhelming creativity ruins your life. Every Google search is about How to Stop Writer’s Block in its Tracks, and you really don’t need anymore of that all-controlling block written away. You need to be less creative.

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No Zombies in the Real World: A Short Story

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Liquor Barn, Saturday, 9:08pm

The shift went on and on like any other.

Groups of bulked-up tradies in stained wife beaters and plaid jackets with fluoro vests ordered slabs of VB to juice up a hundred; barely-legal teenagers making the switch from a four-pack of Smirnoff Ice to the mid-shelf moscato just to look mature; regulars enthusing about their daughter’s sweet sixteenth and the latest Federal budget cuts with disarming irregularity; regulars who just took their Winnie Gold 25s and left with barely a whisper escaping their tar-stained lips: It all happened, and she took it with that insider’s knowledge. Not that she’d been in the business too long, but she knew what to look out for.

So when the three freckled youths walked into the store to the beeping acknowledgement of the sliding doors, she knew exactly what to do. She walked tentatively around the counter, her eyes fixated on their awkward movements. One of the boys, a stocky blond kid, held up a hand to wave to her. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She moved her hand towards him, but still, nothing.

“Can you believe what that thot at Skydeck was saying?” the boy next to him said in a deep voice that belied his thin figure and oversized singlet.

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30 Days of Facebook to Make You Sick of Social Media Forever

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Ah, Facebook: the writer’s biggest procrastination tool. Or, I suppose, anyone on the internet’s biggest procrastination tool. We spend many an hour when faced with writers block, burnout, or simply  a case of CBF. It comes second only to Twitter, but since there’s a lot more to do on Facebook (i.e. waste away the hours with), more time can be wasted. Time that can be spent creating, sleeping, eating, cleaning the house and generally catching up on that 200-strong to-read list (cough, cough).

For anyone new to the internet—or fresh from an internet detox—Facebook is a social networking service created by Mark Zuckerberg and a few classmates in 2004 to perv on his attractive classmates at Harvard. Now, it’s the domain of middle-aged women playing Farmville, Candy Crush Saga and other monotonous freemium games I long ago blocked in my settings; 20 somethings posting about their boring lives to make them seem more exciting; 30 somethings posting the most cringeworthy pictures of their kids; and, of course, the many, many random fads everyone talks about obsessively, and then forgets about forever.

You don’t know what I’m talking about? The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is probably the most popular, taking over everyone except Fred from down the street who hasn’t had Facebook since 2008. What originally started as awareness for Motor Neurone Disease (MND), it quickly spiralled into an attention seeking pit of: “Watch me throw ice all over myself…for LIKES”. You may have obsessively played those freemium games like the Housewives of Facebook: Candy Crush Saga, 4 Pics 1 Word, Petville, blah, blah, blah.

Since most people see the events of Facebook as a blip on their constantly whirring monitor, these fads on Facebook fade out of our consciousness as quickly as they attention seeked their way on. In order to make the most of our utterly useless Facebook addictions (I suppose you could also do this on Twitter or, God forbid, Google+, but most of these fads were originally on the Zucker-zone) and to slowly release ourselves from the grip of social media and its constant sucking of time, hours, and resources, I propose the Internet Explorer Facebook Challenge.

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We Are Nobody: A Short Story

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Diary of Robert Chance
Late December, 2012
[Spelling and grammatical inconsistencies have been corrected for the purpose of publication of this document]

Life sucks when you’re a civilized civilian. They’re sick of me, because I’m too dull for them, and I follow the nine-to-five lifestyle to the extreme. I never thought it would screw me over so badly. I was only doing the same as everyone else, but all it made me was a target in the end. It’s us they choose: the weaklings, the idiots, the sociopaths. Too bad I’m one of them. At least Emily and Sarah were chosen. Who cares if I don’t survive? As long as Emily is fine! A world without my daughter is a useless world indeed. But somehow I’m still functioning.

***

There was a group of Protestants who walked past me before, probably heading towards what remained of their church. I hid in the bush in Steve Taylor’s front yard, my Glock tight in my grip, and my daughter deep in my thoughts. If their Lord had given up on them, there wasn’t much of a chance for me. I heard them screaming shortly afterwards, and my thoughts zapped away into nothing, and I wished if only I could clearly look out of this damn itchy bush and into the red sky itself. It’s still too risky. It was then I heard her laughing. She was laughing, I could hear that clearly, and I’d heard her laughing a lot lately. Emily liked to laugh too. But she’s gone now, so I suppose my life isn’t worth living. Why am I even here now?

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Lurking in the Foreshadows

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What is lurking on this laptop? Could it be the dreaded “foreshadowing”? Or just time to write ~800 words?

Ah, it’s that fated time of the month when I write about something vaguely inspirational and important, boil it down to around 841 words, and amuse you with my cutesy little cartoons and Paint.net Photoshop-esque opening images. But that’s not the point of this—why am I rambling on anyway? On December 30th, 2014, I set myself the goal of reading one book a month and—surprise, surprise—I’ve been following it. For July, it was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, a book that inspired what I’m going to tell you about. That, and my first-ever marathon of the Harry Potter movies, as well as Episode 4 of Life is Strange. “What do these three have in common?” you may ask. “What a clichéd thing for you to ask,” I may respond in a sarcastic manner you misconstrue for mocking.  “Foreshadowing.” *cue booming music* Everyone likes dictionary definitions, and furthermore, everyone loves Wikipedia, so here’s the Wikimeaning* of foreshadowing:

Foreshadowing or guessing ahead is a literary device by which an author hints what is to come. It is used to avoid disappointment. It is also sometimes used to arouse the reader.

As I haven’t read the book which led to The Girl on the Train‘s existence (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn), I came into the book with only glowing praise from Amazon and my bookworm mother, spouting out its merits. It was an engaging read: interesting characters with complex lives and who weren’t just picture-perfect and likeable for the sake of being likeable, and the crazy lives of these characters kept me reading (no doubt helped by the library’s two week loaning limit). The problem with it: foreshadowing. The big twist comes out of nowhere. The twist involved a character who is the secondary protagonist. Part of the novel is told from her point of view. She would, at least once, have thought about the big plot twist that involves her. It is not until a few chapters before the big reveal. This is not good foreshadowing.

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How to Avoid the ‘Planet of Hats’ Problem

Everybody loves Chewbacca from Star Wars, and if you don’t, you mustn’t be a very nice person (I kid, I kid). He’s that huge, lumbering, fluffy Wookiee that accompanies Han Solo around and growls a lot. Now, think of the actual Wookiees. Recall all the scenes where Wookiees appear, and how they’re all just lumbering, fluffy creatures that growl a lot. Wait a second…all of them? Every single one is exactly the same. Now that I think of it, every single alien of every species are exactly the same, except the humanoid creatures, which apparently act exactly the same way as each other. Is that realistic?

I wrote a blog post a while back about how extreme nostalgia can really change how we view the present. Don’t worry—I’m not going to tell you that it’s wrong to be nostalgic. No, really, I’m not. It’s this nostalgia which will probably have you disagree with what I said before: “It doesn’t matter that Star Wars is unrealistic, it was the first of its kind!” you shout at your computer screen, hands furiously wrung into the air. “The original Star Wars trilogy—not that God-awful prequel—is a pure masterpiece!” I’m not disagreeing with you there.

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What Makes Us Human Makes Your Characters Stronger

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Emotions can sometimes overwhelm us. Happiness, sadness, anger, jealousy, surprise: these are emotions all human beings (except sociopaths) deal with on a daily basis. It is these emotions that make us uniquely human, for as far as we know, as we don’t know them yet, aliens can’t be included in the equation. At the time, sadness over a death (RIP) or a job loss or whatever; these things affect us like no other creature. When someone is jealous, or depressed, or furious, it takes over all other emotions. As writers, we have to make the most of these emotions in order to create convincing characters, a realistic setting, and a probable plot line. If we’ve experienced something, we know the emotions associated with it. We know how the characters would react.

Throughout my university degree, I was told to write about what I knew. If you wrote about a place you’d never been to before, or about an intergalactic alien battle, you had nothing to base it on—nothing that you’ve properly experienced. Sometimes this can be utterly ridiculous: many writers write about things that have never happened to them. Stephen King never walked from Maine to Massachusetts in a dystopian United States. Chuck Palahniuk probably never set his apartment on fire to escape the so-called American Dream. J.K Rowling didn’t defeat an almost immortal dark wizard when she was seventeen.

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The Calm Before the Publishing Storm

I’ve recently begun the daunting task of submitting my novella to publishers. You know, that time where you finally realise you’ve finished all the editing you could possibly do; when you can’t procrastinate another minute by checking it’s supposed to be in American English or Pig Latin?

So

You’ve even finished mocking up a cover.

It’s a nerve-wracking time for most writers, and even if you’re not a writer, most of us feel the same way while searching for a new job, learning a second language, or doing something completely out of our comfort zone. For most people, they just say they’re going to write a novel or send their art to a gallery, but we, we’ve actually gathered the courage and put the time into not sounding like an absolute fool in our cover letters. There’s this site I found a while back, SlushPile Hell, documenting those god-awful cover letters by the wannabes who believe their book will be the GREATESTBOOKEVA! Seriously, you don’t have to think that way; you’re just going to come across vain, money hungry and conceited, and that’s never a good way to appear. You may have written a good book, but it’s never going to get out there when you sound like a narcissist on ice.

In any case, sites like SlushPile Hell have shown me that it’s never a good idea to use Comic Sans in an email (or alternatively, print it out in Kristen ITC on purple paper), proclaim your book to be the next Bible, or speek in da propa txt-sp33k langwij. It’s reminded me to stay grounded, and not think I’m the greatest thing since sliced cheese just because I’ve finished my novella and many other people haven’t. There are many other people that have. The thing is separating yourself from that crowd.

This is what’s daunting about submitting to publishers. It’s not a simple cut and dry task, like slapping up your book on Amazon or posting it on your blog, even though I’m not fully against self-publishing—it depends on your reasons for going the self-publishing route. However, this is an exciting moment, making the change from writer/aspiring author to author.

There’s one important thing to realise: It’s not immediate.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it goes saying again: The moment you finish what you consider your epic novel, you won’t receive a phone call from one of the Big Five saying “Congratulations dear Sir/Madam! We hacked into your computer recently and found you have written the greatest book ever written. Please say ‘Yes’ and we’ll send you a contract, because we also know your email/actual address!” Sorry, but you have to do it yourself. I have to do it. Joe Bloggs down the street has to do it. The only ones who don’t have to do it are the rich and famous, and you’re probably not an A-lister, because your assistant would probably already have the ghost writer on the phone.

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“How’d you get my number? Who cares!? A six figure publishing deal!”

Reality sinks in, and this is the part where a lot of self-publishing enthusiasts stamp their feet on the ground like a Sim facing a routing error, screaming “The gatekeepers. Tha gaht-kahpers!” No, you can do that later, if you’ve exhausted all possible options. But, for now, the hard yards are there to be walked, to be put in. As I said, there’s nothing against these people, but if you’re considering submitting your finished novel to publishers, you can’t immediately accept defeat. You have to put work in. Think of famous authors, like J.K Rowling, who submitted to many publishers before Bloomsbury finally accepted her work. Stephen King is a household name, but his work was rejected by publishing houses, causing him to go into a depressive state and almost give up on writing. Many famous and ordinary authors have trekked the same path as you.

As I look to get my own work out there, I’m pretty excited. I’m not running around thinking my work is something that SlushPile Hell mocks, but on the contrary, I don’t conceitedly think the opposite. I’m in the middle-ground, and as I trek this path, I hope to inevitably end with my work in the public, ready for you—the reader and the writer—to enjoy. After all, that’s the main aim for writers, even if many are in it for the $$$ or the fame. We’re in it to provide a good read to readers everywhere. That’s what overcomes the nervousness of submitting to publishers in the end.

Time to click 'send'!

Time to click ‘send’!

Tackling the Big Issues

Usually, before I start writing my monthly blog post, I amble mindlessly around the internet looking for some quick inspiration.

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Where shall I find inspiraton for my blog post today? (Image: Various Google images)

I scroll down my Twitterfeed, past all the people advertising their awesome books, and the latest football match, and what insane things the politicians of the world are doing. I look at Facebook, at my WordPress feed, listen to a song or two, peruse my book collection and muse why I own two copies of Black Beauty and three copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and consider doing a tally of all the inspirational quotes on the interwebs.

Eventually, I find some post that makes me go “Ooh! That’s interesting.” Often, I wonder if it’s too risque to post on the subject, but then I question how many posts I can make on doing what you love (damn it, do what you love! Stop wasting your life doing what you hate!). Sometimes it’s a little ridiculous; after all, people on Facebook aren’t afraid to say how much they absolutely hate Justin Bieber/Nickelback/Coldplay or condemn/adore the current political leader or state how people who love cupcakes should go burn in hell because obviously broccoli is the best. (Note: Obviously chocolate trumps both. Or chocolate cupcakes)

Is this why Generic Author A decides to write a supernatural YA trilogy about a girl named Angel Ivy-Rose Heavensby who finds out she’s an angel and has to struggle with her love for newbie werewolf Rolf Wolff, while wondering if she actually loves childhood friend Vladimir Dracul who turns out to be—you guessed it—a vampire? Is it why Generic Author B decided to revamp that series as a sexy romance with a naive girl-woman and a jaw-droppingly attractive quadrillionaire? Or why writers decide to write the same old thing, albeit with a slightly different title and character premise?

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The series would look something like this. (Images: Various Google Images)

Well, some of them probably write those because they like the genre. They aren’t embarrassed to admit they liked reading the latest smash hit, and they enjoy writing stories based on that. That’s all good and dandy.

However, if you’re only writing a rip-off of the current craze because you want the ca$h or to become famous, that’s never a good sign. Remember the vampire craze? Sure, it was fine at the start, but nowadays there are far too many YA vampire novels. Do you want to be known as one of the countless imitations, or do you want to write something different and possibly start the next craze? Just remember: People will remember Twilight and Harry Potter in fifty years, but they won’t remember the ones that followed them just to cash in.

And, since I seem to have trailed off from my main point, I really should get back to that before… Hey, look, the Blerch!

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Damn it. Well, anyway, what I’m trying to say is… Don’t just write what’s in because you’re scared to write your espionage novel that tackles rape culture/American gun culture/proves a point to Holohoaxers. This doesn’t mean popular fiction books can’t do that, but if it’s the five-hundredth zombie book based on The Walking Dead, then people aren’t going to notice the issue. They’re going to see it and go, “Oh, f***, not another f***ing zombie novel!” like some Gordon Ramsay clone.

When the faceless on the internet criticise The Hunger Games, for example, for being just another YA love triangle, they don’t seem to realise the books stray away from that, mainly focusing on the horrors of living in a world where teenagers face the possibility of being sent to fight to the death every year. However, since that was the first in the dystopian-universe-where-chosen-one-can-only-save-the-universe, readers actually think about it. Now there are so many of them around, readers don’t take stock of that meaning, they just read it, expecting it to be the same as the original, or toss it to the side because it’s just like the original.

If you see someone (or, if we’re being realistic, lots of people) on Facebook or elsewhere criticising something, remember you have the ability to actually do more than just criticise. Whether you’re a writer or whatever, you can quit that pointless complaining that nobody’s really listening to anyway, and get that out in the world (whether through a book or elsewhere) to show people you’re actively trying to do something.

If you post a comment on YouTube saying that people who like cupcakes are evil because they’re loony lefties, you’re not adding anything. If you just read that comment and don’t react at all, or do react but are too worried to respond, you’re not adding anything. However, if you paint a painting showing a cupcake slowly melting in the sun, or write “4 Reasons Why Cupcakes Are Better than Muffins” for Cracked, then you’re doing something.

Congratulations! You’re not just being a zombie, but you’re actually going to have more of an effect than if you just moaned about it to your friends. And, as ever, as long as you’re not intending to do something bad/illegal, then good on you!