#Bookadayuk

October is by far the best month of the year.

There’s #stoptober to stop smoking, #soberoctober raising money for Macmillan Cancer Research, not to mention my birthday.

I’ve also just discovered Books Are My Bag, a campaign celebrating brick and mortar bookshops. They’ve come up with the fairly catchy #bookadayuk meme for October – and I’ll be taking part.

For October 1st – a book to curl up in front of a fire with – I am going to go for one of my all-time favourites: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

What’s yours?

(Psst! Follow me on twitter @am_harte!)

bookadayuk

Signs You’re Procrastinating

Procrastination affects the best of us — but how can you tell if you’re under its dreaded curse?

This post is for any writers seeking a diagnosis on their procrastination levels. If this sounds like you, please call a doctor immediately.

Are you procrastinating?

You sit at your desk to write, and then…

  1. You find yourself reading nail polish ingredients.
  2. You examine everything else on your desk except for your laptop and/or notebook.
  3. You realise the messiness of your desk is a distraction and tidy everything away.
  4. Making tea or coffee is all of a sudden essential.
  5. You may as well do the dishes while the kettle boils.
  6. You decide that now is the best time to clean your keyboard. With a toothpick.
  7. You finish your tea and make a sandwich.
  8. You look up the origin of sandwiches on Wikipedia.
  9. Twitter is somehow open despite a personal promise not to use social media.
  10. You spend several minutes reading a blog about procrastination.
  11. You write this post.

Oops… guilty as charged.

(Psst! I shall be without internet for a couple weeks, so if I don’t reply don’t get offended!)

Burn Out

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that the best of us burn out.
– Adama, Battlestar Galactica

It’s only in the last few days that I’ve started writing again.

Sometime over the last few months I burned out. Whether because of day job stress or something else, I’m not sure. But it’s only now, after sobbing my eyes out over a particularly dramatic BSG episode, that I’ve started thinking about it.

The truth is I’m afraid to fail.

I start writing and immediately my mind thinks: let’s set targets, goals, deadlines. Let’s measure our progress.

I write two consecutive #fridayflash? My mind decides I should write one EVERY week. I try to rationalise: how about every other week? How about twice a month overall?

You can cheat the system for a little while, but soon the lack of progress wears thin.

For my current WIP, I decided I’d write 60k in six months. I set up a fancy excel to track my progress and expected completion date. I told my friends, who also began to check in on me.

When the words failed, I started copy pasting large chunks from my scribbled notes into the main document, just to make up the numbers. To trick myself into thinking I was being productive.

I want to be a successful author. So many people know of my ambitions that the pressure of their expectations weighs on me. My friends tell me: “So just write. You can do it.”

Yet I’m not writing.

I look at what I’ve produced over the last few years and think: that’s it? One novel. Some short stories. A series of abandoned ideas and a lack of commitment to anything else.

Eventually I tell the emo voice in my head to get lost and set more goals. It only works for so long.

But maybe now I’m at a turning point.

I haven’t failed if I don’t finish the novel by September. I haven’t failed if I don’t apply to agents by end of next year. I haven’t failed if the next book isn’t as well-written as I want it to be. I haven’t failed if I’m not selling short stories to magazines.

I haven’t failed if I never become a famous author.

What matters is that I love writing. What matters is that I’m writing for me.

Even the best of us burn out.

I’m not afraid anymore.

The Writing Meme

I’ve had this writing meme saved in my drafts for ages, unread and untouched, so what better time than now to procrastinate with it?

The rules are simple:

  • Copy paste the questions below onto your blog;
  • Fill in your answers;
  • Drop a link to your post in the comments here.

My turn!

The Writing Meme

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

The classic culprits: just, little, up, down, in, out, but, then, and of course and. I have to cull through my work to remove anything unnecessary.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

Same as above, which is why I ruthlessly delete them when I’m editing. Also, ‘suddenly’ and ‘all of a sudden’ can be annoying – the latter more so.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?

It’s hard to pick; my favourite changes with my mood. Most of the time, I would say it’s one of the short stories in Hungry For You. Particularly the eponymous story, “Alive”, or “A Dead Man’s Rose”.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

When I read through old stories – and particularly old fanfiction! – I cringe with embarrassment, but I don’t regret writing them. Every story I write makes me a better writer.

Name three favourite words

I honestly struggle with picking favourites.

…And three words you’re not so keen on.

And equally struggle to pick words I don’t like. Words are words.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

I have favourite authors, but I don’t see myself becoming them, so I’m not sure. I think we’re all trying to find our own path.

What’s your writing ambition?

To do justice to the stories I want to tell.

What’s the last thing you wrote?

A scene from my current WIP, a werewolf novella.

Was it any good?

I hope so. I’m not at the editing phase yet so I’m not letting myself think about that.

What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?

A short story I wrote in 6th grade about a horse escaping from a zoo. With pictures.

Write poetry?

I used to, then realised I’m crap at it.

Angsty poetry?

Yep! That’s why I was crap at it.

Favourite genre of writing?

Anything speculative.

Most fun character you’ve ever created?

Mort, from Hungry For You. He’s a total stereotype (overweight policeman, always eating, a bit crude), and yet I had fun using him as a counterpoint to the zombies.

Most annoying character you’ve ever created?

Lilith, the protagonist of Above Ground. She’s so hard-headed sometimes it defies belief.

Best plot you’ve ever created?

I’m not sure about best, but I really liked the set up in “Hungry For You” – female policeman who killed her zombified boyfriend ends up entangled with what might be the last male zombie alive.

Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?

I loved the scene in Above Ground where you discover the truth about Liam’s parents. I felt positively evil writing it.

How often do you get writer’s block?

Never. I do get writer’s laziness though.

Write fan fiction?

Not anymore!

Do you type or write by hand?

Typing all the way.

Do you save everything you write?

I try not to. If I find myself doing it, I create an archive folder and shove things in there. Keeping everything isn’t healthy; you need space to become a better writer.

Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?

So far, I haven’t. But maybe one day.

What’s everyone else’s favourite story that you’ve written?

Most people pick “Hungry For You” (the story, not the entire collection).

Do you ever show people your work?

That’s the point of this website. :-)

Have you written a novel?

Yup. See Above Ground.

Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Only in fanfiction.

What’s your favourite setting for your characters?

A contemporary/urban setting.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Actively, two. I’ve got another half a dozen on the backburner.

Do you want to write for a living?

Yes.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?

No.

Ever written anything in script or play format?

No.

Do you ever write based on yourself?

Everything I write has a piece of me in it.

What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Maeve, from Darksight. I’m still working on piecing that story together.

Where do you get ideas for your characters?

From my head!

Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Often.

Do you favour happy endings, sad endings or cliff-hangers?

Bittersweet endings. Happiness comes at a price.

Have you ever written based on a piece of artwork you’ve seen?

Only for small writing prompt exercises.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

To an extent.

Ever write anything in chatspeak (how r u?)

Eugh, no. Drives me mad.

Entirely in L337?

Nope.

Was that question appalling and unwriterly?

Yes. Except now I’m tempted.

Does music help you write?

No, but it helps me prepare to write.

Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.

“When I’m lonely for boys what I miss is their bodies. The smell of their skin, its saltiness. The rough whisper of stubble against my cheek. The strong firm hands, the way they rest on the curve of my back.”

- “Alive”, in Hungry For You

Your turn!

7 Reasons Books Are Like Zombies

  1. Zombies love brains.
    So do books. In fact, books love brains so much that reading can make your brain activity increase, leading to wanting more books, leading to more braininess… Mmm, brains.

  2. Zombies shouldn’t be judged by their external appearance.
    Sure, they’re rotted and decaying, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have hearts. Just like books with crap covers. Don’t blame them.

  3. Zombies should be handled with care.
    Related to #2, zombies can fall apart, losing fingers and eyeballs. Do you want your book’s cover to fall off? To tear the pages? To fold the corners and (gasp!) bend the spine? Don’t do it where I can see you.

  4. Zombies are often more famous after death.
    Excluding zombie celebrities, most zombies are fairly average Joe’s during their human life. But posthumously… that’s another matter entirely. You didn’t think they’d written Pride & Prejudice & Zombies for the lulz, did you?

  5. There are various genres of zombie.
    There’s the classic slow-moving, dim-witted type. The falling-apart type. The I Am Legend wannabe-vampires type. Instant transformation vs long incubation. And in Hungry For You I even chucked in some swimming zombies and zombie swans. You name it, we got it.

  6. The good zombies are infectious.
    It wouldn’t be a good zombie story if only one man was susceptible. The best zombies spread like the PLAGUE. In fact they spread like bestselling books. First one guy’s reading it on the train, then all of a sudden everyone has a copy.

  7. Zombies decay… but last forever.
    One of the coolest things about zombies is their duality: undead, but dying. Books may fall apart, but their stories live on forever.

Can you think of another reason to add to the list?

A Riddle For March: Pink, White, or Blue?

HatsA Blue always answers a question truthfully; a White always lies; a Pink, answering two or more questions, tells the truth and lies alternately; his first answer, however, may be either truthful or otherwise.

A visitor to the islands approached a group of three natives, whose names were Mr. Pink, Mr. White, and Mr. Blue. One was known to be a Pink, one a White, one a Blue.

Taking Mr. Pink aside, the visitor put some questions to him.

“Mr. Pink,” he said, “are you the Pink, the White, or the Blue?”

“I am the Pink, sir.”

“And Mr. White?”

“He is the White.”

“So Mr. Blue is the Blue?”

“Obviously.”

Is Mr. Blue the Blue? If not, what is he?

The Power Of Words

Thinking back to my days at school, the first thing I feel is old.

Almost eight years have passed since the heady, post-exam days of the summer of 2005. Almost eight years since my classmates and I were together, dressed in shiny blue silk gowns and unflattering hats.

The girl I was at graduation would have thought of eight years as an interminable length of time, yet it has passed in a blink. Now — with a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and two full-time jobs under my belt — I can look back to my time at school with a degree of nostalgia.

The truth is that without school, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not wishing myself back in time. Those young enough to remember the terrible anxieties of school dances and classroom politics will agree that teenage drama is worth experiencing only the once. Yet there are some memories that have stayed with me, and these are the ones that have shaped me into the (slightly older) girl I have become.

What connects all these memories is the most important lesson I ever learned at school:

Words have power.

Communication is the cornerstone to learning, but it is also so much more than that.

It is through words that teachers motivate, inform and inspire their students. However much being a teacher can become frustrating (particularly when students aren’t in the mood to concentrate) it is also an empowering role. As a teacher, you can help a struggling student if you know what words will motivate them.

As for students, it is through words that they express and find themselves. Writing well-constructed essays, however dull the subject matter, is an invaluable skill. The ability to critically discuss issues or stand up and present to a crowd should not be taken for granted.

Trust me: in the last eight years, I’ve met my fair share of inarticulate people. Perhaps that is why, when I think back to my time at school, the moments I remember most are those that involve the power of words.

At first, I was slow to enjoy words. I was a poor reader and a worse writer in elementary, lagging far behind my classmates. Yet one teacher managed to convey the joy of reading to me, to motivate me into wanting to learn. I began to devour books, not to mention write countless (appallingly drawn) stories about horses. Without her words, I wouldn’t have read one hundred books in a year.

In middle school, it was a teacher who taught me the difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’. To this day I remember my utter bemusement when I raised my hand and asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?” to which the teacher replied with a smile, “I’m sure you can.” Now, when I’m editing, I correct people making the same mistake with a little smile of my own.

Another teacher, frustrated by our snickering, pre-teen humour, stuck posters around the classroom with words such as ‘long’ and ‘hard’. With time, these words lost some of their power — or perhaps we learned to suppress our immaturity. This taught me that words mean different things to different people, and the importance of adjusting your lexicon to your audience.

My favourite memories, however, are the moments which inspired me.

I remember one day, our teacher came in and wrote on the blackboard that he had laryngitis and couldn’t speak. The entire class passed in attentive silence; never before had a class of teenagers been so quiet. He wrote a line of poetry on the board, and we wrote the next. Then he wrote another line. Then we did.

At the end of class, the teacher clapped his hands and said: “Right, let’s hear your poems.” Not only did he not have laryngitis, but in the last hour of silence I’d written my first poem. As each student read their poem aloud, it was astonishing to see the differences emerge.

In another lesson, our teacher asked one of my classmates to bring in his cello and play for the class. As the first notes strummed through the air, the teacher told us to relax and write whatever came into our minds. The words flowed through me onto the page, and I was filled with a contended lightness that made me realise: this is what I want to do.

There are many more moments I could mention. Throughout the twelve years I attended school, my love of words was recognised, nurtured, and encouraged. My current successes are in part due to being taught the power of words, and for that I am forever grateful.

Of course, I am a little biased. As an author, words mean everything to me. But I believe that the power of words can take you wherever you want to go, whether that place is writing a collection of zombie short stories, starting up a business, or even just surviving the next school dance.

So to the teachers out there, here are a few words of my own: watch what you say. You never know who is being inspired or motivated by your words.

To the students: listen carefully, and listen hard. School is what you make of it.

And to the (kind of) grown-ups like me: school may be over, but you should never stop learning.

Resolutions For 2013

New Year’s Day.

I’m feeling pretty rough.

It’s hardly the best day to have to travel back to London on a crowded train, but I don’t have much choice – I’m back at work tomorrow.

So. I better start the new year properly.

A few days ago I reviewed my accomplishments for 2012… and now it’s time to think about the future.

What do I want to accomplish in 2013?

It’s easier to start with what I DON’T want to accomplish.

I’m NOT going to set any reading goals, because reading distracts from my writing. (Besides, that time I read 120 books in a year? I had no social life.)

I’m NOT going to set any blogging targets, even though I would like to update this blog more regularly. Every year I resolve to update more often, and every year I fail. Clearly this tactic isn’t working.

So what AM I going to do?

Resolutions For 2013

  1. Write one book to completion.
    If I tell myself to finish a particular book, I won’t. My brain is silly like that. So I’m keeping the goal general enough to make sure I at least write something.

  2. Participate in a short story anthology.
    Last year I appeared in Best of Fridayflash: Volume 2. The year before in Tales for Canterbury. And the year before THAT I was in 12 Days 2010. I’d like to keep up this tradition, so if you’re organising an anthology get in touch!

  3. Find balance.
    Last year I fell off the tweeting/blogging wagon, my writing output was fairly consistent but too slow. Rather than set impossible individual targets, I want to organise myself to make time for writing, online stuff, my day job and a social life.

Yes, that’s it.

Ultimately all I want to achieve in 2013 is to fairly accomodate everything, without feeling like I’ve let something slip. I’m a Libran, after all. We like balance.

What about you? What are your resolutions?

The Year In Review

This time last year I was making smug comments about gym attendance in January.

I re-read the post with a tiny smile, then realised that – gasp! – I’d made resolutions of my own:

  1. Get Above Ground done and dusted. Finish serialising it, get it out in print and ebook form, and close the chapter on that novel.

  2. Plot/plan the next book. I haven’t decided which, yet — I may run a little poll and get you guys to vote on which I should work on.

Success rate = 75%

#1, obviously, is done.

But rather than fully plan the next book, I’ve half-planned the next four. Maybe I should have run that poll after all.

Too bad I forgot I’d even made any resolutions.

What else did I accomplish in 2012?

The reason I only set two goals was because I generally end up involved in all sorts of crazy unplanned things, such as:

  • MERGE.
    I adored co-writing this series of stories and wouldn’t mind dipping back into that universe.

  • The LAST book of The Antithesis series.
    Terra was one of the first authors I brought on board for 1889 Labs, and it’s been really rewarding to edit her kick-ass series. The fifth and last book came out in August.

  • The FIRST book of The Legion of Nothing series.
    I was thrilled when Jim Zoetewey accepted to publish LON with 1889. We’re already working together on the second book in the series.

  • Editing other cool 1889 books.
    Like Gangster by Melissa Jones and Ventricle, Atrium by Gabriel Gadfly. I feel an almost auntlike pride over 1889 books.

  • A month-long blog tour!
    Writing that many guest posts and interview answers has got to count for something.

  • Redesigning this website.
    Okay, okay, I’m clutching at straws now….

As of October, I also started a new job, which I’m pretty chuffed about.

But of course in a few days it will be a new year, and time to accomplish new things. I’ll post some goals in a few days.

In the meantime: what have you accomplished this year?

Happy Christmas!

Warm wishes to everyone for happiness and inspiration and lots and lots of chocolate!

I know it’s an advert, but I love this Christmas video:
(not suitable for vegetarians)

Did you receive a Kindle?

If you were lucky to get a Kindle for Christmas this year — or if you already have a Kindle, and got an Amazon gift voucher — you should stock up on reading some great indie titles!

Anyone who contacts me by December 31st can request a free copy of any of my books. Just let me know which you’d prefer. :-)

Fancy something else?

I’ve also got an Amazon gift voucher to spend, so why don’t we compile a Christmas reading list? One suggestion per person, and it can’t be your own book.

Christmas Reading List

Here’s my suggestion to start off the list:

18Revenges The Eighteen Revenges of Doctor Milan by Christopher Ruz

Despite it’s awkwardly long name, this is an awesome psychedelic scifi novella infused with philosophy. I proofed the ebook for Ruz several days ago and read through it in mere hours; the setting is reminiscent of Chronicles of Riddick but it’s so much more than that.

If you’re looking for some well-written, contemporary scifi that will have you hooked, this is it.

What else should be on our Christmas reading lists?

Drop your reading suggestions in the comments.