Author Business, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Should you end your story with a cliffhanger?

So, you want to end your story with a cliffhanger…why is that? In this current world of social media, information overload, and big data it might seem tempting to put a flashy, attention-grabbing end to your story that leaves your reader salivating for the next book in your series and immediately follow up with: “click here to buy book 2!”

No doubt some of your readers will fall into your trap and click to buy (ka-tsching!) but how many of those readers will later feel betrayed, especially if book 2 isn’t living up to their expectations which were raised when you put that cliffhanger at the end of book 1?!

Cliffhanger Rule no. 1: Manage your readers’ expectations
Never raise expectations that cannot later be met (or exceeded). Readers who feel betrayed write fuming, 1-star reviews that say: “would give 0 stars if I could!” – or worse, result in requests for refunds. No need to learn the hard way! This one is common sense.

Cliffhanger Rule no. 2: Don’t use cliffhangers unless your story continues
The purpose of a cliffhanger ending is to keep your reader engaged. So, if you are not writing a series, or if your work is a short story, you can opt for an open ending but there needs to be a sense of resolution. Otherwise your reader will be very annoyed as you will have robbed them of their payoff and wasted their precious time. It’s like some network cancelling your favourite TV show mid-season!

Cliffhanger Rule no. 3: Avoid cliché
A good cliffhanger intrigues your reader. People go on reading your work because they want to know what happens next. Clichés are overused, familiar conventions that your reader has seen a million times. If they can guess what your cliffhanger is leading up to, your efforts are wasted. Try to work out what ending your reader is not going to see coming and see if there is a plausible way to use the unexpected scenario.

See ya next time 😉

If you have ended any of your stories with successful cliffhangers in the past, drop your link in the comment section below (I am nosy and Iike to read…a lot)! Also, in case you are a fan of Invasion, Girlboss, or The OA and will spend the rest of your life wondering how those series should have truly ended – please let’s commiserate!

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Can you write without inspiration?

Have you been bossed around enough by the fickle mistress that is inspiration? How many good writing hours have you wasted and how many self-help books have you spent your money on in the pursuit of one goal: to write (and write well) whenever you want?

I am sure that some of you out there have long reached the following conclusion: writing on schedule is impossible because writing without that spark of inspiration is impossible.

This post is designed to show you that however plausible your reasoning might be (I am sure you went through plenty of pain and experience before throwing in the towel), you’re totally wrong about this! You CAN write any time you want and you CAN write reasonably well and progress your writing project any time you sit down to write.

Now, before you launch a complaint in the comments below this post, let me elaborate on my reasoning and the circumstances, pain, and personal moments of writing experience that have led me to form this seemingly far out opinion.

In case you are not a regular reader of this blog, the first thing you need to know about me is that I have been writing fiction for just over twenty years. And in all that time I failed to do one thing: finish a full-length novel. However, I gained something more valuable than a finished piece of work in all this time (which I therefore don’t consider a waste).

I gained a detailed understanding of what it takes to finish. AND against my own expectations *drumroll* the key to finishing your project is NOT inspiration. It is NOT genius. It is grit. That ability to come back into the arena even after you have been knocked off your feet countless times and have lost plenty of fights.

The secret to finishing your novel, novella, short story, column, self-help guide (or whatever else your are dreaming of finishing one day) is the ability to sit down at your keyboard and type even when you REALLY don’t feel like doing it. But that’s not all there is to it.

There is a second part. In addition to the willingness to sit down and type, you also need to have a way of overcoming your self-doubt. Shut up the inner critic, don’t give in to ANY self-talk (not even pep talks), and make sure you have a coffee/ tea/ water to sip every time you’re in danger of giving in to your doubts.

Ultimately the secret to writing on schedule is this: all you need is one sentence you don’t hate. That’s it! Once you have that first sentence down you are more than likely to get sucked into writing a whole paragraph – sometimes even a whole scene!

Here’s how I get to that one sentence through my tried and tested writing routine (nearly 1-2 hours of writing nearly every day):

STEP 1:
Decide what I want to get done that day – minimum expectation only, so I can give kudos to myself if I exceed my target. Stacks the odds in my favour.

STEP 2:
Make a cup of herbal tea/ coffee – this is a habit I have established. It signals comfort and tells my brain: “there is nothing to be scared of, buddy.”

STEP 3:
Go to my writing space – I have a set place where I like to write and where I am used to being productive. Bottom firmly planted on my writing stool (good for my back)…tick!

STEP 4:
Open my favourite writing programme (truenovelist.com) – being familiar with the controls of my writing programme helps not distract me from the task at hand: writing!

STEP 5:
Write a rough outline to define the scope for the session – a small blurb or bullet points that detail what I am about to write will do. For me, that’s mostly scene synopses to make sure I know what should happen in the scene I am about to write (I tend to write in spurts of 1000 word scenes, or complete flash fiction one-shots).

STEP 6:
This is where I write that sentence I DON’T hate. It’s magical. Happens now almost automatically, although on some less inspired days I might still have to have 3-5 gos before it actually sticks.

There we are, a 6-step blueprint on how to initiate good quality writing any time you want (with zero reliance on that fickle mistress showing up – just don’t forget to thank her whenever she does decide to flounce into you writing space…it helps!)

See ya next time 😉

If you have found my 6-step blueprint for writing reliably of any help, please let me know in the comments section below this post. Knowing what you like to read, helps me plan more helpful content for the future. Have a good writing week!

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

How to get back to writing after a long break due to illness?

While giving up is never an option, the temptation is always there; lingering. From the sight of the smallest problem, right up to big, all-consuming crises (aka when life takes over), fear and self-doubt are always there and ready to pounce!

“You can’t do it anymore,” they shout.

“You can try but you will fail in the end,” they snigger.

“Go ahead, write…BUT it will be bad writing, coz you’re a bad writer.”

I am sure there is many more delightful messages you yourself have received over the days, weeks, months, and years since you decided to try and be a writer and start finishing projects rather than just scribble on napkins. I have had daily memos of this kind ever since I first thought about trying to write a novel.

There are many famous writers out there trying to encourage us. “Write very day,” they say. That’s good advice but is it feasible? For me, it’s certainly not an option. I do aim to write every day and write most days as a result.

But for those of us who also ride the 9-5 job train, there will always be the day when you’re kids get sick, or when a deadline is looming, or when you finish the day exhausted and need to fall asleep on the sofa right after dinner…or the day you get sick.

I went through a very scary experience last year. A sudden dizziness overcame me towards the end of a typical work day. I was struggling to focus my eyes. I was feeling nauseated. My left arm went numb, then my left leg, then the left side of my face…until the entire left side of my body felt heavy and devoid of any feeling.

I was home alone that day. I was scared. I called the emergency services and was rushed to hospital not knowing if I was coming back. Two thoughts went through my mind: 1. Will I see my husband again? 2. What if I never get to write my novel?

This is where I have to point out: we don’t have kids. If we did, I am sure they would have featured in my thoughts.

After 20 hours of tests including a blood test, a urine test, a chest x-ray, a head CT, and an MRI (among others), I was sent home with the following diagnosis: my physical health is excellent, there is no infection and no other physical cause for my symptoms…BUT…the symptoms are real, they will recur, and they will recur every time I am severely stressed.

So, I am playing a game and I will be playing it for the rest of my life. The name of the game? Manage your stress. Meditate every day. Sit in silence for 10 minutes every day. Exercise 15-20 minutes every day. Eat healthy every day. Do breathing exercises every day. E-V-E-R-Y D-A-Y. Forever!

The last few weeks were stressful. I completed a big work project and I didn’t take good enough care of my stress. Now, you know where I was and I why I couldn’t write. On a scale of 0-10, how bothered do you think I am that I have missed blog posts, missed Wattpad updates, and made no progress on my novel?

You’re right, the answer is 0. Because my certainty that I can recover from momentary episodes of my stress-induced symptoms is 10. I have done it before, I can do it again. I have written before, I can do it again. It’s my mantra. It’s what I say to myself when the self talk gets nasty. It’s what I chant in my meditation.

I did this once, I can do it again…so can you.

If this posts helps even one person, I would be chuffed to hear about it in the comments below. If you have your own experience with coming back to write after an illness, or if you are managing any chronic illness whilst being a writer, please share your methods for keeping your writing practice and your writer’s mindset in check.

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World-building, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How to explain magic in a story?

Magic is a tricky thing to explain. If you’re not careful you end up saying too little, leaving your reader wondering what the rules around your magic system really are.

Other times, you might be tempted to info dump all the ins and outs of how the magic in your story works…running the risk of boring your readers to tears. How can you find the right balance?

While I can’t say that I have a definitive solution, the best way I have found to explain magic is to only provide the minimum amount of detail your reader needs to understand the limits and opportunities of the magic system you have created.

For example, in my recent flash fiction story ‘A Clockwork Bride‘ all of the rules of the magic system are simply explained by mentioning three specific aspects:

1. Magic requires the use of a key (vehicle) – this step is optional

2. The key contains magic silver dust that gets gradually used up by the clockwork body (limitation)

3. Every time the key is used, some magic dust residue remains within the clockwork body (opportunity)

To sum it up, bringing your magic system to life with clarity and in a way that engages and intrigues your reader may not be a piece of cake but it’s certainly possible.

Keep it simple, be selective in what information you need to share and let your characters do the rest. Their reactions and use of the magic is key to your reader’s understanding. Don’t info dump!

See ya next time 😉

If you are struggling to explain your magic system, are prone to info dumping or have an even better idea how to successfully explain magic in your stories, share your thoughts in the comments below! If you have a story that demonstrates your approach, feel free to post a link to it!

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Why you should tell your story…

Once upon a time, a little girl had an idea for a story. It so excited her that she couldn’t help but run out into the garden and tell the story to the world…at the top of her lungs.

The neighbours weren’t exactly pleased – although I imagine a few of them were at least intrigued by the story about another little girl who couldn’t sleep and conjured a bunch of extraordinary creatures into being.

Those creatures were the mumble dwarves and the little girl was loosely based on the storyteller – you guessed it; that was me! I was eight.

To restore peace and quiet to the very conservative neighbourhood I grew up in, my parents made a rule. I had to write my stories down…instead of shouting them into the garden. At the time it seemed like a punishment. How would people find out about my stories if I could only write them down?

It later dawned on me that every book in our home (and in the world) had once been just a scribble on a piece of paper. And once I had grasped that concept fully, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer. I was thirteen when this happened.

Twenty years on, much has changed in my life. But one thing is still the same – I am still dreaming about being a writer. In fact, that is all I want to be. So, why am I sitting in my living room, typing this blog post in a hurry before having to start my soul-sucking full-time job that makes me nothing but tired and stressed?

You guessed it again – because I never got over the hurdle of actually showing my work to anybody after I hit sixteen…until last year, when I decided that enough is enough and that I can’t live with myself if I don’t at least try to get my fiction out there. Who knows what can happen?

The one thing I am sure of is that I am not the only person who is going through this storm. Although, I am sure that we are in different boats, it hurts all the same when a gale blows at us and when the waves crash down over our heads.

So, as a beaten and battered (and quite wimpy) writer, with impossibly big dreams, let me shine a tiny beacon of hope into the darkness. You should tell your story! Even if nobody reads it. Even if nobody who reads it likes it. Even if your writing is bad. Even if you never achieve your dream.

Why? Because the journey is worth it! If nobody reads your work, find a way of marketing it better. If nobody who reads it likes your story, find out why and fix it. If your writing is bad get feedback, READ, and STUDY the books you love, write more and get better.

If you are a writer, then writing is something you feel compelled to do. It most likely makes you happy. It most likely, makes you feel like you have a purpose. And that, in itself, is a massive reward.

See ya next time 😉

If you got any kind of value out of this post, share your own sop story in the comments below. No judgement! Everyone is loved…and maybe if we all share a little beacon of hope we can light up this darkness and feel a little less alone as we see each other struggle in our own, uniquely painful ways.

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

How to find time to write with a full-time job?

Many of my friends and family don’t understand why I am still writing. After all, I finished university, got married, and snagged a full-time job. What more do I need? The creatives among us will have no difficulty rattling off a catalogue of needs that a job simply cannot fulfil. And I would happily plonk my signature under any such list – any time!

The deep, inner drive of the creative force within me makes my ordinary life unbearable at times. And the feeling that I don’t have the right to complain makes it at least ten times worse. Having my full-time job swallow my life is my biggest fear. The thought that I might die one day, with my stories still inside me, has me lying awake at night with a sprinkling of cold sweat on my brow.

Every glowing performance review kills a small part of my soul. Because each time somebody tells me that I am good at my job, the thought of leaving all this behind one day becomes scarier. And the possibility that my writing might one day pay my bills (if I’m lucky) seems more and more ridiculous the older I get.

So, I do all I can to fight the demons. This week the demons are full of strength and I feel weak. But I still have a choice. I can give up and let the demons win (in which case my worst-case scenario is certain). Or I can write. As long as I write there is a chance. A tiny spark of hope.

I am not going to sugarcoat things for you. Writing alongside a full-time job is HARD. Maybe the hardest thing I have ever done. It requires time management and the willingness to let bad writing happen. Don’t be afraid to write rubbish now and edit another day. Work out if you are a morning person or a night owl – then schedule your writing time accordingly. Make a realistic appointment with yourself..then show up. Otherwise you will be very frustrated.

In my twenties, I used to be a morning person with the ability to jump out of bed at 4:00am and get dressed by Disney birds. By the time I had to leave the house I would have already written at least 1000 words and feel like a rockstar. I miss that younger, more optimistic version of myself.

Now, in my thirties, I am a night owl. I no longer stress about writing early on in the day and accept that my most creative time will be at 9:00pm when I have done everything I need to do for the day (including my job, any housework, shopping, cooking, eating, tidying etc.)

When my reminder goes off, I go to my desk, write as much as I can for 2 hours and then go to bed. Some evenings I can write 1000 words, on others it’s closer to 10. But it’s my new routine and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It also means that I am able to produce 3 blog posts (including 1 flash fiction story) per week.

I make slow but steady progress on my debut novel (Fearful Magic) by chipping away at this enormous task. Just knowing I am getting closer to my goal and can write reliably is a big help when the demons show up. No matter what they say to me, I have some work to show.

The weekends are mostly for editing. On Saturdays I might still try to write (mostly outlines) but it’s usually less productive than when I write in the week. On Sunday evenings, I spend 1 hour planning ahead; including what scenes/ blog posts/ flash fiction to write next. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous…but it works.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this post insightful, have a great writing routine already, or are still looking for one, share your thoughts (and tips) in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you choose the best point of view for your own narratives?

One of many questions I have about writing fiction! And while I am sure that there is no perfect answer, I also believe that there might be some different answers, depending on who you are and what you write and who your audience is.

I recently touched on this when I wrote about breaking some writing rules

The main reason why this interests me has to do with productivity. I don’t know about you, but I have very limited time to write in my busy life. So, optimising my time and getting my fiction drafts as far as possible every time I sit down to write is absolutely essential. Otherwise, how can I make my dreams come true?!

One major stumbling block on the journey to becoming a successful novelist is having to rewrite your entire draft just because you picked the wrong point of view to tell your story from in the beginning. Once you write yourself into a corner it can be pretty tough to get out of it – especially if you’re writing in first person.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi but many novels in these genres suffer from dissatisfying ‘miraculous’ solutions to problems that the protagonist can’t solve because their is no way he/she/they could have had access to the information, place, or powers needed to get out of their latest pickle.

I try not to work miracles in my stories. NOT EVER! And it’s very hard. But I also found that the better I plan (I’m a plotter, remember?) the easier it is to actually finish my stories. And isn’t that the ultimate goal for us novelists – to one day finish our novels so we can hit ‘publish’ …eventually…and without our readers feeling cheated?

The choice of which point of view you use to tell your stories is NOT arbitrary. Choose wisely. Think about what kind of story you are writing, how likely your protagonist will be able to convey all the information your audience needs so you can solve your problems in a clever, yet plausible way that doesn’t require miracles.

And don’t forget: if your are using magic to solve any problems in your story, you better not break any of your self-imposed limits and rules. Just inventing a new rule that the audience didn’t know about up to that point is cheating. Your readers won’t appreciate it.

How do I know this? Because I am a reader and I hate feeling cheated. And every time an author cheats me, I make a note of their name and never buy their books again.

See ya next time 😉

If you have experienced the pain of having to switch point of view in the middle (or close to the end) of your narrative, share your experience in the comments below. I would also love to know if you know of any clever tools (or at least aides) to help choose the right point of view from the beginning. I always love to learn new techniques.

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Book Shelf, Fiction, Worthless Waffle

Should you re-read fiction books? (Reread Tag)

For once, I have spent my weekend well and, as a result, I am all written out! So I decided to go easy on myself and try a tag instead of an original post. I came across this particular one on Zeezee with Books and thought I would chime in with my own recommendations. The Reread Tag was created by Brianna at Brianna’s Books and Randomness and I will be forever grateful to her for coming up with this.

The tag raises a very important question for me: should you re-read fiction books? Is it more than a simple, guilty pleasure? Or it is it perfectly pointless? I am using the tag to explore this question in light of the fiction books I would happily re-read (and in light of those I’d happily bin).

Here goes:

A childhood favourite that you could read 100 times and still love
My pick for the first category is by now a well-known, modern classic: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was the first full-length novel I ever read. I was 9 and it took me a year! And even after all the years that have passed since I read it, I continue to want to re-read it and find new and exciting details in this magical tale. This story made me want to be a writer. It will stay with me all my life.

Northern Lights
by Philip Pullman
(His Dark Materials, Book 1)

A book you DNF’d but would be willing to give a second chance to
I know this revelation might shock some of you given my obsession with magic and witchcraft which drives pretty much all my writing. But for some reason my first encounter with this series wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I was a student at University and bought a frayed copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness in an Oxfam charity shop. I took it back to my grubby accommodation, had it sit on my bedside table for 3 months, read the first few chapters, felt that a witch and a vampire attending a yoga class together wasn’t my thing and then donated it back to the same charity shop where I had originally bought it. Luckily the very excellent TV show got me back into the story and now I am totally hooked on the boxset.

A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
(All Souls, Book 1)

A newer favorite you would reread
I first heard about Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell from the Richard and Judy Book Club. I know this will mean nothing to my international friends, but here in the UK, Richard and Judy are kind of a big deal and their book recommendations sell millions of copies. Another big reason for why I bought this book was a discussion of this on the radio and the story sounded so incredibly interesting that I simply couldn’t help myself. But as is often the case with books that are hyped up in the media, I had a hard time matching my actual reading experience with my imagined reading experience. Also, the episodic nature of the individual chapters kind of threw me as this was not among the things that the media zoomed in on. However, as much as reading this book felt like a chore the first time around, I can now appreciate it differently. In retrospect, all the tenuous little links between chapters that were so well brought out in the movie, really stand out. Re-reading this book is a real joy and I have done this twice so far with re-read number three firmly scheduled for 2021.

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell

A book you hated and never want to read again
So there are those books that need more than one chance…and there are others where even one chance feels overly generous. The Ship by Antonia Honeywell definitely falls into the latter category, in my view. What a shame! I bought a copy of this book completely cold and with great excitement. The reviews on the cover were just what I hoped for in a book of dystopian fiction. The subject matter was right up my street, the characters were strong and interesting. So where did it all fall apart? For me, it was the plot. The setup made a great promise that was never kept. Once people made it onto the ship, they were all overcome by ennui (and so was I). People did what people do…on a ship at the end of the world. They fight, they have sex, they have poor judgement. When the final twist FINALLY came, I was ready to throw this book into the nearest bonfire. Ended up donating it to a charity book sale at work. Good riddance!

The Ship
by Antonia Honeywell

A classic you read in school but want to try again
Based on the movie, Dead Poets Society by Nancy H. Kleinbaum is easily the best book I ever had to read for school…and as somebody who loved reading (even for school)…that’s saying a lot! If you have never read it, you must! Even if it’s just for a glimpse of what creative people get out of their creative activities. To me, this book/ movie holds the key to understanding why people create. It perfectly demonstrates the way in which the act of creation opens a portal into another world through which an artist, writer, performer, etc. can escape their dreary existence at least for a small amount of time. This story shows how art makes life bearable and how unbearable life would be without it. A beautiful movie made into a beautiful book.

Dead Poets Society
by Nancy H. Kleinbaum
Screenplay: Tom Schulman

An author you would reread anything from
Gosh, you guys…what a question! Surprisingly, the answer to this was really easy for me. The author from whom I would happily re-read anything (and whose new books I would buy without hesitation and without even reading the blurb) is the wonderfully imaginative artist-author Audrey Niffenegger. Her books are dark, complex, rich in detail and imagination and they might not be for everybody. In the case of The Time Traveler’s Wife, the story can feel convoluted and confusing. But if you are willing to trust the author, and follow the trail of breadcrumbs that are so cleverly strewn throughout the book, you will find yourself in the middle of a wonderful, eccentric adventure that will make you laugh, shudder, question, and bawl your eyes out at times. The strongest writer of magical realism I have ever encountered.

A series you want to reread for the fun of it
Call me a soppy old traditionalist, but when it comes to epic fantasy, I am all in favour of studying and re-reading the works of the uncontested master of the genre. These books blew my away years before the movies were ever announced. Reading this series was like being soaked in mystical cultures, languages, believes, and adventures. I can’t think of another series I would re-read for the pure joy of reading. With so much detail, there is always more to learn and explore. The next time I have time to disappear into a series (this usually only happens around Christmas) this will be top of my list. Always a pleasure!

Lord of the Rings
(3-Book-Collection)
by J.R.R. Tolkien

A book you’ve read but want to listen to the audiobook
I am a massive fan of audio books – just not when it comes to fiction. I love learning new things when listening to non-fiction self-help books on Audible (the audio book subscription service of my choice) whilst ridding my house of cobwebs, dust, and grime (or whilst folding the laundry)…adulting sucks! Interestingly, I don’t find it easy to listen to fiction. This is mainly because I often don’t like the readers. Unless it’s read by the author (Neil Gaiman has an amazing voice), Stephen Fry, or at least has a narrator whose voice matches the mood of the story, I am generally not interested. So I can’t really tell you which of the books I already read would be among my audio book choices as it tends to be either or. So let me recommend my favourite fiction audio book from my audible collection. It’s Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman…read by Neil Gaiman…6 hrs and 50 minutes well-spent.

Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman
Narrated by Neil Gaiman

So, where does this leave us? Is there a point to re-reading fiction? I hope that we have all reached the same conclusion by now. Re-reading fiction books has its merits…as long as you pick the right books to re-read. The list is different for everybody but if you know why you loved a book or why it changed you/ your life, you can go back and re-read the same book countless times and still never cease to learn from it.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this tag, and decide to try this on your own blog or website, please remember to link back to this post. Reading other people’s answers to these questions is more than half the fun of the Reread Tag. Happy reading to any of you who might take me up on any of my recommendations and don’t be too shy to respond to any of them in the comments below.

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Story, Structure, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Can you ‘doodle’ your story in 4 simple steps?

We have already discussed the pros and cons of having an outline (or map) to help with closing plot holes, ensuring you have the right number of characters for your story, and that there are enough scenes to tell a satisfying story.

What we haven’t talked about is how to start the outline. I know how intimidating a blank page can be when your story is nothing but a vague series of snippets in your head.

To help overcome this initial anxiety, some people like morning pages. Others keep a notebook and write down bit over time until there is enough material to pull it all together. Unfortunately, neither of these methods has ever been of much help to me.

If you have had similar experiences, you might want to try the doodle method. And it goes like this:

1. Start with a blank sheet of paper (I did mine with the doodle feature in Evernote but you don’t have to be fancy). Take any pen and write ‘story doodle’ at the top of the paper.

2. That’s a good way to cheapen it up a little and reduce anxiety of ruining the page. Expect it to look terrible. Don’t pressure yourself to make this pretty! That’s very important.

3. The put the working title (if you have one) of your novel onto the centre of your paper and draw a bubble around it. Then identify the main themes of your story and write them spaced out around the centre bubble. Draw bubbles around each of these too and connect them to the centre bubble. I like to include a bubble for ‘characters’ but this can be done separately if you prefer.

4. Now start filling in information around each bubble and connect your notes with relevant bubbles (connect notes to several bubbles if applicable.

When you finish you should have something like this:

Story Doodle for the fantasy novel ‘Fearful Magic’ by Josie Cole (@WimpyWriter)

Tadaa! Your first draft outline is complete. This one took about 20 minutes, so perfect if you don’t have much time for your writing. I use my story doodle as a point of reference to help with populating my story grid and character profiles…and when I’m stuck.

See you next time 😉

If you try a story doodle or have a similar (or maybe even better) method to get a story outline started, please share your experience in the comments section below this post. I would love to hear from you.

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Plot, Story Beats, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

What to do when outlining isn’t enough?

Calling all plotters! Let’s imagine the following: you have established your writing process, worked out your basic structure, completed a description of every scene…but when it gets down to writing, you struggle to come up with the all important details. The narrative doesn’t flow and you inevitably find yourself asking the question what else should I add into this scene?

If this scenario is foreign to you, consider yourself lucky! It’s the number one reason why I have faltered at completing a novel so many times! Following my renewed commitment to actually finishing my first novel during last autumn, I also sparked an obsession on how to force my brain to work it out. I thought NaNoWriMo was going to fix everything. If needs must, your brain can do it!, I thought…I was WRONG!

I had all the same problems but now I was also under unnecessary pressure to hit daily word limits. The more I wanted to win, the more I lost – sleep, productivity, and even the basic joy in writing evaded me. It was horrible.

Halfway through the challenge, I stopped caring about writing my first draft. I just started jotting down some story details that I knew and started elaborating on the things that I noted in my story grid whilst asking: how would it happen? Additionally I added snippets of dialogue that came to mind in relation to the events that were finally starting to flow.

The result: things shifted completely and I started typing furiously into my word processor every day (a shame I only came to this realisation on day 25 of the 30 day challenge).

The good news is that the concept of what I discovered is not new. Sterling and Stone (an incredibly productive fiction writing trio) have termed this ‘story beats’. A detailed outline of their whole story in long prose. Whilst I haven’t studied their method in much detail and can’t say how similar or dissimilar my version of this is from what they are doing, I can attest to the fact that the rough longform outlining of story really works very well.

Here’s a list of my key findings after writing a good chunk of my rough story beats (I didn’t make it all the way to end yet but I am working on it).

  1. Some extra scenes need to be added for the story to flow (even though scenes seemed to follow on fine from each other from the story grid).
  2. Supporting characters weren’t fleshed out enough in the grid outline and it was difficult to imagine how they would react in certain situations.
  3. Not enough worldbuilding had been done – this will be addressed as a priority this year as it might change some aspect of the characters.

I can’t wait to post about how I will be addressing the issues I have identified and share any resources that help me on my journey.

See ya next time 😉

If you are stuck with your own writing, share your issues in the comments below, maybe I can suggest something that helps (I know all about being stuck, after all). And if you have experience with story beats, I would love to hear how it’s worked for you (or not).

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset, Writing Process

How to bounce back from ‘research’ overload?

Even though my planned Christmas holiday from writing dragged on way longer than recommended, I am glad to be back to my normal posting schedule. I hope you haven’t missed my antics all too much and are looking forward to new posts? I’m sorry if you found my silence irritating…the words ran dry and I needed a rest!

The main reason for my extended break from writing was ‘research’…by which I mean ferocious reading of material mostly tangentially relevant to the story I am crafting…by which I mean…I was reading other authors’ works of fantasy and adventure fiction whilst not working on my own.

If you want tips on how to procrastinate, I fear I might be a masterful adviser. Just ask in the comments section below.

There, I admitted it. Relieved to have come to the end of a difficult year, I plunged into a blissful winter break from EVERYTHING. I ate cake (and other sweet treats in abundance), explored amazing story worlds, watched Netflix, felt jealous (and like a bad writer) a lot, and battled self-doubt.

I’m sharing this with you because I promised to share every part of my journey to my first self-published novel and what happened between this post and my last is something that writers sometimes go through. I am fessing up about the most recent time when I felt like giving up – but didn’t.

Think about everything you heard any successful author ever say about rejection. The advice is always the same: keep writing. Start over. Carry on. Or in the manner of Stephen King (just read The Dark Tower): get a bigger nail! This advice also holds up when it comes to rejecting yourself.

You know not to read back your first draft until you finished it but you do it anyway and start doubting and worrying, and rejecting your writing. Like me. The key is to start again. Be kind to yourself. Recharge, write more. At least that’s what I intend to do.

It’s 2021 and if there are any of you out there wondering how to bounce back from the black hole that was lockdown Christmas (at least that’s what it was in the UK) I hope this post helped.

See ya next time 😉

How was your winter holiday? Did you also get caught up in any ‘research’? If you got anything out of this post (or if you read something amazing and want to share a recommendation) let me know in the comments below.

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Author Business, Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

The trouble with consistent writing…

Those of you who read this blog regularly (you have my eternal gratitude) will have noticed that I have some difficulty keeping up with my posting schedule. My novel writing has suffered just as much. What you might not know is that I am desperately looking for ways to improve this.

If you are a fellow writer who is always looking for ways to discipline yourself to put one word next to another and build an unshakable writing habit in the process, I expect that you will have come across various methods that supposedly help writers write consistently.

Here are a few of my personal faves:

  1. The 8 minute writing habit
  2. The pomodoro method
  3. Morning pages/ free-writing
  4. NaNoWriMo

These are all great and in some cases really work, but if you are a terrible procrastinator (like me) you might struggle to implement any of these techniques…or at least fail to so consistently…which kind of defeats the point.

If you are as frustrated about this as I am, the following nugget of wisdom might help soothe the pain: the writing part is not the problem. It’s the sitting down part you might have the problem with.

If you have kids (or a busy job…or both), you will know all too well how hard it is to find quiet time…and how it feels to try and write in the ungodly hours of the morning (or at night) whilst feeling exhausted…with a brain that is utterly devoid of any decent ideas.

Then comes the weekend or the quiet weekday morning when your kids are in school and you just can’t seem to get the starting energy required to light your creative fire. You kind of can’t be bothered to actually write, even though conditions are close to ideal.

If this scenario looks familiar you, you don’t need a method to help you write consistently. You need a method to wake up your brain (ideally the pre-frontal cortex) and learn to take advantage of any moment of motivation energy, no matter how brief…spoiler alert…these only last a few seconds.

In case you’re intrigued, the 5 Second Rule is my recommended method for any writer looking to tame their busy brain. I am no master at this yet but find that just by catching a good moment here and there I am becoming more consistent…and more motivated already.

See ya next time 😉

If you have previously heard about the 5 Second Rule, are hearing about it for the first time, or think this is all of no use whatsoever, don’t be shy and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you get around info-dumping?

One of the more mysterious questions to come across as a writer: why is info-dumping so hard to avoid? Despite my best efforts, I still way too often come across it in my drafts during editing…even though I set out to write with the firm intention not to info-dump…every time!

Oh and by the way, it doesn’t seem to matter how well (or badly) my story is researched. The urge to overpopulate my writing with meaningless detail that no reader will appreciate simply seems ingrained in me.

Whilst I can easily spot info-dumping as a reader (or with my editor hat on), it seems that my unruly writer-self is simply oblivious to it whilst writing is in progress. So annoying!

So, on this occasion I don’t have any advice for you readers out there but I sure hope that somebody more experienced than me might read this and have some useful advice for me on my long and tiring journey.

See ya next time 😉

If you have any good ideas or even success stories to share around how to get rid of (or at least reign in) the pesky habit of info-dumping in novels, short stories, or any other works of fiction, please let me know in the comments below.

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Genre, Worthless Waffle

Is fantasy really a genre?

I hear your collective gasp! How is this even a question?! Where have you been all these Tolkien and Game of Thrones filled Cinema/ TV evenings over the last erm…19 years?!

I have been glued to the screens of course! Read all the books and have properly geeked out! But every time I tried to write my own fantasy stories they kind of came up short. I never really knew what to write about…and that’s because of what I know now:

Fantasy is not a genre in itself…it’s a component of genre.

To be precise, it’s actually an indicator for how much a reader should prepare to suspend their disbelief when reading the story. Whether they should expect a romance, action adventure, coming of age etc. aside from the fantasy stuff is really down to other essential genre components. It appears that genre is not a thing…it’s a construct.

The term fantasy alone is not enough to describe your genre and tell your reader what your work is about. Check out the genre clover by Shawn Coyne to see what helped me better understand fantasy and its relationship with genre.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this article helpful, thoroughly disagree or have no idea what all this has to do with a clover, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Don’t worry, write happy!

Writers are dreamers! I am sure that you and I are no exception. That’s what makes us strong…and weak. The world wasn’t built for dreamers Being a dreamer is hard…tiring…and often disappointing.

But for those who dare to dream, one special reward awaits. No, it’s not becoming rich. No, it’s also not winning awards or speaking at a writer’s convention whilst brushing shoulders with your idols…although any one of these dreams is entirely within the realm of possibility…for some very lucky ones.

So, what about those of us who will most likely never fulfil our dreams? Should we stop now? Of course not! Our dreams are the fuel for the engine of our imagination…any writer’s bread and butter. A dreamer is rewarded in the moment of pursuit. The journey is the reward.

Feeling happy about the possibility of success (as defined in our day-dreams) is the best kind of feeling. We have no expectation for that in-the-moment feeling, we just let it happen. We don’t judge it, don’t expect it, don’t compare it. It’s not what we dream about but it is what makes even the unfulfilled dreams worthwhile.

Dream big! Write! Never stop dreaming. Never lose hope. And please never beat yourself up!

See ya next time 😉

If this post makes sense to you, or if you have another opinion on the matter, don’t be shy and leave a reply in the comments section below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Why some research is essential to your story, even if you don’t think it is…

I know, that writing is subjective. As a writer you have your own method to plan, research, and construct your narrative and this post doesn’t change that. So, if you are foaming at the mouth due to the preachy title…I apologise. Give me a chance to explain what I mean.

Research can be a very difficult issue to navigate as a writer…especially when your characters are tugging at you from the backdrop of a new, bright idea and all you want to do is jump in and type. In some instances, getting started on your story is a great idea…and at other times you might want to pace yourself in favour of some research.

But what about fantasy? I hear you groan. Can’t I write whatever I want if it’s fantasy…research-free? Yes, you can…but don’t forget that research isn’t only about getting factual information down. There is one particular type of research that I found to be beneficial for fantasy writing as it helps to make my characters and my story more relatable.

I am of course talking about emotional research…which can be done purely from your own memory of how it felt to be in a certain situation or can be done from second-hand sources (biographies, interviews, etc.) if you are writing about something that you haven’t got personal experience with.

Getting your understanding of the thought-life and feelings that factor into your characters’ experience throughout their story arc is in my opinion one of the number one ways to write something your audience will care about. It’s certainly something that is key to all the fantasy novels I have read and loved.

Think about Frodo Baggins’s journey to Mount Doom and how this affects his mood, mind, and feelings as he tumbles from one perilous adventure to another whilst slowly becoming possessed by the dark magic of the ring. And what about His Dark Materials where Lyra’s curiosity and risky maneuvers pull us right into her story where we have a visceral reading experience as key events unfold and some dangerous truths are discovered?

See ya next time 😉

If you are already a fan of emotional research and have a useful method to share, never heard of this, or think it’s bogus, leave a reply in the comments below and share your views.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Do you keep writing when the writing gets tough?

The answer to this question should be obvious. If you are a writer coming across this blog post, wouldn’t we be expecting you to emphatically shout ‘YES!’ at the top of your lungs with your fists clenched and a never-say-die attitude straight from the movies?!

Of course! But real life is not a movie and most writers, are sensitive, introverted, treasure seekers rather than limelight-loving superheroes with fluttering capes. Negative comments hurt! Missed deadlines cause guilt! Stifled progress sparks self-doubt! Internal critics nag at us!

Most writers I know (incl. myself) are plagued by self-doubt on a daily basis. Have we done enough world-building? Do we need more research? Have we over-researched our subject? Are our characters compelling? Is the story adequately paced? Is our writing style boring? Have we missed any spelling mistakes? And on, and on the list goes!

It’s Day 4 of NaNoWriMo and I have already missed a day. Neither of the first two days reached up to the daily target of 1667 words and I am already in doubt if I can even finish this thing! Do I want to sit down after work today and keep writing? Not really…

Will I sit down and write (at least for a bit)? Probably…

People say that ‘writers write’ and that’s true but nobody every said writers write easily and happily in spite of all their other life commitments. So let’s console ourselves with these words:

Writing is hard. You often won’t fee like it. But writers always come back to writing eventually… and sometimes magic happens.

Josie Cole, 2020

See ya next time 😉

If you are also having a hard time working on your NaNoWriMo project, know all too well what it feels like to be plagued by self-doubt or have a good technique for motivating yourself to write, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle

How do fiction writers write?

With great difficulty… if the most wildly celebrated (and prolific) authors out there are to be believed. So what chance do I have?

As life has recently turned into an Edward Hopper painting (thanks to the current global pandemic)…the best chance in the world! Finally an excuse to stay in and work. No visits, no holidays, no distractions. Just me, a load of blank pages, and a whirlwind of ideas going through my head. Can you tell I am trying to motivate myself…and maybe one or two of you out there?

Welcome to the first steps of my writing adventure from vague idea to self-published novel – a one stop shop to fully understanding how I write! Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of it documented in weekly posts (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). All my learnings, winnings, and failings – uncut!

See ya next time! 😉

If you are also currently writing your first novel, consider leaving a comment below. I would love to know how you’re getting on!

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