Tag Archives: thought

Writer’s Block: Building Your Sandcastle

Have you heard the thing about writing a first draft; it’s like piling sand into the bucket, and the second draft is then building the castle?

My writer’s block at the moment feels like the sand is that really hot, dry sand you get sometimes at the beach; the sand that slips and slides and just falls through your fingers when you pick it up.

So I can grasp a handful, but it just trickles through my fingers: and even if I did manage to get it into the bucket, I’d tip it out into my castle and it would just melt away again.

I’ve got the ideas; but I can’t put them together into anything. I can’t flesh out the bones: every word is a grain of sand picked up and put in the bucket, and then taken out again.

Here’s hoping the tide comes in, and then there’s some damp sand again!

Image via Pexels.

Strong Princesses, Agency, and Show vs Tell

I got seriously grumpy on Twitter last week, and deleted a rant about Strong Women and Agency and writing female characters. So, I’m going to try to make more sense* here.


I was reading a nominal Strong-Princess novel. Ok, great. In the first few pages they were learning to fight, and the protagonist was wondering who she’d get married off to.


But they weren’t involved in politics…  despite wanting to get involved. One princess threw a tantrum when she learned that a brother (or possibly brother-in-law) hadn’t told her that he knew about a political event.


And all the rest of the supporting cast – aka. the political players – were men.

Men ruled. Men made the decisions. Men were the envoys, ambassadors, decision-makers. Even when a Princess was RIGHT THERE, her husband did the talking for her.

But these are Strong Independent Women! We know they are because we said so!

Fuck. That. Noise.

It feels like Strong Independent Woman is now its own set of cliches, and that’s almost as frustrating. I don’t need these princesses to go off on an Adventure to prove that they’re Independent. I don’t need them to learn to fight to prove that they’re Strong. I don’t need to be told that they Definitely Are Protagonists!

What I need is for them to have Agency.

If someone doesn’t give them information, they need to react to that. If they’re frustrated with their position in life but feel hemmed in, then react badly – show us the limits, show us the frustrations, show us the problems. If they’re fighting those bounds, then fight them. – go and GET the information! Talk to people! Go  OUTSIDE with whoever the damn man was to meet whoever the damn Ambassadors are. Elbow their way into the world they want to be in!

There are more than enough Queens, Princesses, Dowager Duchesses and women of power in history to show multiple different ways of grasping power. You’re telling me that  Heirs of a Kingdom are being brought up to be completely politically ignorant? Or are they hoping their husbands and advisors are going to be a good pick? And do they have no other resources around them?

And the “oh I wonder who I’m going to marry” – ok, I know it’s a trope in romances, but seriously? Is that IT for life? “All of my sisters are married off, so I wonder who I’m going to get?” I know some people are fixated on their love lives, but to have it shoved in when the rest of the narrative was  trying (and failing) to prove that “oh no, we’re not just wilting flowers”… BAH.

I’m still struggling to put my finger on what annoyed me so much, because it’s not a big annoy – it’s just a nagging little thing that built up even after I’d put the book down. It was just a… “No. This isn’t what it should be” feeling. But I can’t pin down why I’m quite so miffed, and what would have made it better.

But, my bottom line:

The princess shouldn’t have to go off on an adventure to prove that she’s a Strong Independent Heroine, but she damn well shouldn’t be passively moping around waiting for her love life to start, either.

Probably more thoughts on this as I keep pondering!

Taking The Punches & Fighting For The Books

Part of my job, after I’ve bought all of the books, is to work out what cover we want on them. Gotta wrap the text in a nice package that tells you something about the book and makes you want to pick it up, yes?

And this week, trying to do that has just knocked me flat.

I’m lucky that Rebellion has quite a chilled-out covers process; we basically just figure out some directions, have a chat, email around, have another chat, find an artist…. and fucking hell is it hard work. I feel like for every punch I’ve stood up from, another’s come and knocked me straight back on my butt!

The problem with book covers is that there’s usually multiple directions they could go in. What’s popular generally? What’s hot in the genre? What’s going to be hot in a year’s time? What do readers expect? What does the US like, versus the UK? What’s going to suit the book? What looks good, great, fabulous? What’s going to make people buy this?

You’re also doing that within time and budget constraints, of course. Nothing new there.

Every time I thought I’d got something figured out, someone hit me with a new idea or a new direction. For every decision I made, I encountered another point of view. Every time I tried to get out of the rabbit hole, another four passages opened up…

And it was hard: stressful, anxiety-inducing and plain discouraging. I’m doing my best, and I keep getting told I’m not good enough.

But actually, that’s not true.

I’ve got to remind myself that I am fighting for my books.

A mediocre cover won’t do. A “meh” cover won’t do. I am not letting these books that I bought and I love out there in the world with a cover that doesn’t represent them. I want people to read these. I need people to read these.

And every alternative suggestion, every “not good enough”, every critique – it’s not aimed at me. It’s going into making the cover the best damn cover it can be.

That said, I still have to filter and refine and work out which suggestions are worth listening to. And I need to take the knocks – because they’re not aimed at me. They’re aimed at my books: I am championing something bigger than me. And I am damn well going to make sure everyone knows that they need to read these ones.

A Thought About Voice – The Start

I had a piece of writing recently that I was editing, and it started with;

“Finally,” the young woman said-

What voice do you read that spoken word in? What tone?

Is it “FINALLY we have gotten round to THIS THING!” or “So, um, finally I get to say something?” or “Fiiiiiiinally in my very long list of shit…” or something else entirely?

It turned out, half a sentence later, to be a tremulous tone.

And so I did what editors do, and I crossed it out.

It’s too uncertain an opening. It’s a single word with too many different tones and meanings and phrases, and it brought in too much of an about-face in the reader if they read it the wrong way (“well FINALLY we’ve got to this point! HUMPH!”) and then suddenly had to switch to tremulous.

One of my core principles is that the reader shouldn’t have to re-read unless it’s a deliberate choice. If you’re pulling an abrupt switch or a big reveal, then a re-read is great! (One of my favourite parts of Skin Games by Jim Butcher comes after the reveal three-quarters of the way through, and you end up gleefully skipping back through entire conversations to get a hidden meaning.) But if you’re using dialogue and you’ve got a long conversation, I shouldn’t have to track back four lines to check who is saying what. I don’t want to have to return to the start of a paragraph to check when they actually moved location/opened the window/did the action. And I shouldn’t have to realise halfway through a sentence that my tone is completely (and I mean completely) wrong.

As an addendum to that; slightly wrong, I think, goes with the territory. No reader will read the characters in the same way that the writer hears them, and that’s fine. But you should be able to at least convey the general tone of the conversation: and that’s why “Finally” got a red line through it. There were other ways of conveying the hesitation and tremulous tone; in fact, all I actually ended up doing was suggesting the second half of the sentence went first, which conveyed the tone far better.

That said… you know this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, right? Maybe just a general suggestion to have a read of your openings, and check if there might be another way they could be read.

Imposter Syndrome, with added Imposter

I’m buying books.

Who let me get at the department’s budget?! I mean, I have to convince my boss first (which usually consists of me being enthusiastic at him, and not using the words “steampunk” or “fairy”)-

-which, on a side note, feels like an even worse method of buying things than anything else: I like it, therefore we need it-

I mean, who am I fooling? I should be doing Serious Market Research and throwing TCM figures around and looking at Amazon stats. Instead, I’m going “well, I really liked it and therefore I want to throw it out into the world in the hope that other people like it too.”

Ok, maybe that isn’t such a bad method of choosing books.

But then I have to negotiate for books. And then hopefully buy them.

I mean, that feels like an even worse method of doing anything. Someone’s letting me loose with a whole bunch of money and I’ve got to go ask an agent how much I have to give them to let me publish a really really good story all over the place, or maybe just in one or two places. I want to print pretty books, anyhow.

And then there’s a whole bunch of tedious detail, but I can’t have everything my way.

I just feel like…I need more experience. Or age. Or knowledge. Or just… it shouldn’t be ME.

Who let me do this?!

But I bought a really good book! It’s Jane Austen with magic (ok, there’s a lot more detail than that but you’re going to have to wait for it to come out, because it’s just so much fun) and eeeeeeeeeeh!

(Also, seriously looking forward to Chimera coming out. It gets more and more fun every time I read it!)

And I’m currently pondering another.

It’s terrifying, exhilarating, and I am both feeling major Imposter Syndrome and absolutely loving it. I still don’t know who let me adult, though…

If anyone needs me this evening, I’ll be in my blanket fort.