3 Things I Know To Be True

Mr Sage and I had Chinese for dinner the other night. The deliciousness was, of course, finished off with a fortune cookie each. Mine read: Opportunities multiply when they are seized. For the first time in a very long time, possibly ever, I found myself agreeing with that tiny scrap of waxy paper. So much so that I’ve been carrying it around in my phone case ever since. It got me thinking about some other things that resonate, and I thought I’d share them here.

1. Opportunities multiply when they are seized.

I spent much of my young adulthood unemployed. There were a lot of factors at play in that, but possibly the biggest one was that I had no experience. You know the story – everyone does. I did, eventually, manage to get a job as a shop assistant and everything changed. In a matter of months, I was being invited to apply and/or interview for other jobs about once every couple of weeks – and on one occasion by a company that had previously rejected me, not even bothering to respond to my application. I seized the opportunity that was in front of me and dozens more sprouted from it.

2. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

My mom told me this on more than one occasion. I think she got it from Oprah, but Google tells me it was first said (or written) by the Roman philosopher Seneca. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly lucky person. I’ve entered plenty of raffles, lotteries, and tombolas in my life, and I have won exactly 3 times – a Lunch Bar, a jar of cookies, and a BB gun which was promptly confiscated as soon as my mom found out about it. (But not before I managed to shoot my little brother in the backside. Sorry, Alex!) Luck is not my friend.

Skill, knowledge, and preparedness, however… Well, given the right opportunity, that’s a winning combination. Just ask 9 year old Sage, who won R10 (enough for a whole, full-sized Magnum!) for an essay on “Why I love my library”.

What I’m saying is luck isn’t so much about luck as it is about being prepared for the opportunity when it comes along.

3. Success is what you decide it is.

If you’ve been anywhere near the self-help section of a bookstore in the last quarter of a century, you’ve definitely heard of the 5 Love Languages – the idea that everyone experiences and expresses love in one of 5 ways: gifts, time, words, service, and touch. (I’m super simplifying here, but you get the idea.)

I think the same is true of success – everyone has a different idea of what it is. For some people success is how much money they have. For others, it’s all about who they know and how popular or well-known they are. There are all sorts of other ways to define success. It’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s idea of what success is – but if you measure yourself with someone else’s yardstick, you’re bound to come up short. I know, I’ve spent pretty much all my adult life feeling like a gnome.

So now I have my own definition of success. It’s not a huge, global thing. It’s small, and personal, and mine. Every day that I do something towards my dreams, I’m a success. Every time I get out of bed when I don’t want to, I’m a success. Every session I end with more words than I started with, I’m a success. I am successful. And you know what? So are you.

And now I think I’m going to go buy a lottery ticket with the number on my fortune. Wish me luck! ;P

MSUM Part 3 – Passing on the Passive Voice

Welcome to Part 3 of “My Stories Under the Microscope” or “MSUM”, where I run 13 of my short stories through Hemingway and take a closer look at the results.

This time it’s all about the passive voice.

First, let’s have a (maybe not so quick) refresher. If you don’t need a refresher, feel free to skip to the next heading!

Passive voice is when the subject of your sentence is being acted upon instead of doing the acting. For example:

“Sage ate the last burger.” is active voice.
“The last burger was eaten by Sage.” is passive voice.
“The last burger was eaten.” is also passive voice.

If you need a trick to help you identify passive voice, try adding “by unicorns” to the sentence (you can replace unicorns with whatever you like, mythical creatures, cryptids, kaiju…) – if it still makes sense, it’s passive voice. “The last burger was eaten by unicorns” = passive voice. [I take no credit for this trick, it was taught to me by my good friend and writing buddy, Robyn Sarty. Thanks Robs!]

The passive voice sentences are completely valid but they do feel a bit limp. The action has already taken place. It has been acted, it has gone to the great theatre in the sky, it is an ex-action. And if you caught that reference, we are destined to be the very best of friends.

In narrative fiction, generally speaking, we want action that is strong and direct. We want boom-boom, not womp-womp.

Passive voice does have its uses: anywhere where the action is more important than the actor (sorry, theatre buds), we want to use passive voice – think historical accounts (“The war was won.”), legal documents (“The motion was denied.”), scientific reports (“The results were recorded.”) etc. It can also be used to avoid or deflect blame. This is a particular favourite trick of politicians.  It acknowledges the action without stating who is responsible or what the solution or follow-up action is.

Remember: both active and passive voice can be used to great effect, but active is generally considered stronger for narrative fiction.

Now that we’re all caught up, let’s take a closer look at my work and the results from Hemingway.

passive

As with adjectives, the “allowable” is proportional to the word count of the piece. Again, it’s not an exact formula but it works out to be roughly 2% of the word count per piece. Looking at the graph, I don’t seem to be terribly guilty of this particular “problem”, but let’s take a closer look at one of my more passive pieces. 

This is an excerpt from Landslide:

passive2

If we rewrite the passive “Everything was covered in a haze.” as active “A haze covered everything.”  we get a stronger, more present sentence. I’m kicking myself for not having written it that way in the first place, but if I had we wouldn’t have this example to learn from.

“They couldn’t be returned now.” would also be more impactful in the active voice: “She couldn’t return them now.”

So far, so good. It seems we have a pretty solid case for active being better than passive.

But now take a look at the third highlighted section: “They were ruined.”

This is a great example of a passive sentence which is not improved by being rewritten into active voice, for two reasons. The first is that, while “The rain had ruined them.” is a perfectly good sentence, it is also less simple and less punchy than its passive counterpart. The second is that the active version does not make sense when read with the following sentence: “Like she was.” 

This post has turned out to be about 3x longer than I intended it to be, so I’m going to wrap it here and say that I’ll be back soon with MSUM Part 4 – simpler alternatives to complex sentences. I’m also working on a post about writing with/around mental health issues and/or chronic illness, a topic requested by another dear friend, Richard Bat Brewster.

Stay awesome!

 

Title and Cover Reveal!

Friends, thank you for supporting me through the craziness that was July. I managed to reach my goal of 100 poems for my not-so-secret project, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help.

There’s a lot of work still to be done on it, but in the meantime… We have a title! And while we’re revealing that – a cover, too!

*** drum roll ***

SFG1-a

silk flower goodbye is available for pre-order now, and will be out on 2 October 2019.

I want to thank everyone who kept me going this past month – Mr Sage, the Clarens Writers, the Wanderimos, the Wishful Inkers, and the Bestexperimates. I don’t want to single anyone out because I am guaranteed to forget someone. If we’ve had any contact recently, just know that I am so completely, utterly thankful to and for you!

CP is on a trip at the moment so I have a little breather before we get into feedback and editing on this project. I should be working on Number 19 (new title TBA when I can think a little more clearly), but I was struck by an inspiration particle on the commute home yesterday and am going to give myself this weekend to work on that before I get back to Number 19 on Monday.

I know, I know. Squirrel mind.

I hope you’ll have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are. Remember that you are loved. Be good, be kind, and stay hydrated! x

Can You Speed-Write Poetry?

Discussing goals with my local writing group on Sunday, I mentioned that I would need to write 42 poems in 9 days (approximately 5 a day) to reach my goal for July. That statement was met with the question “how?” (Well, not exactly, but that was the gist of it – I’ve paraphrased for clarity.)

My answer is this: exactly the same way that you speed-write a novel – knowing that it is an imperfect draft but that the seeds of a great work are there.

When I’m speed-writing these poems, I’m not intending for them to be the final, finished, published work. I am getting down the kernels of the truths I’m trying to write. And once the month is over, I’ll tweak them and polish them. I’ll give them to my CP to read over and feed back on, and I’ll work on something else while I wait for that feedback. We’ll tweak and polish them together.

And then I’ll polish them a little bit more, because that’s what you do.

Some of them are close to what I want already, and won’t need much work. Some of them are so far away that I can’t see what I want with a telescope – but somewhere inside them is something I wanted to say, and that is what I’m doing when I’m penning 100 poems in a month. Well, 80 – I had about 20 before the month began.

It’s not about perfect. It’s about done.

The Mid-July Report

This post was intended (but not yet written) for last week. Life, however, decide that we had not had enough lemons, and Mr Sage ended up in hospital, where he has been for the last week. (He’s home now, and doing much better).

On 8 July, I had a moment of bravery/temporary insanity, in which I made a public declaration on Twitter. The Bestseller Experiment witnessed it and has shouted it out on the podcast, so there is no turning back for me now.

What did I declare?

Part 1: I will have ALL 100 poems for my book written by 23:59 (GMT+2) on 31 July 2019.

As it stands currently, I have 58 poems ready – 42 still to write. There are 9 days left, not including today. That means 4,7 per day, rounded up is 5 a day. Maybe a little on the hectic side, but not impossible or even improbable.

Stay tuned to find out if I manage it!

Part 2: The poetry book will be available for sale by 01:30 (GMT+2) on 2 October 2019.

Even if I miss the 31 July deadline for completion, which I’m not intending to do, the book WILL be available by 01:30 on 2 October. Why 01:30, I hear you ask. Well, that’s another story for another time – but keep your eyes peeled for more info info and announcements on my blog!

PArt 3: The current draft of Number 19 will be completed and in the inbox of my alpha reader by 23:59 (GMT+2) on 30 November 2019.

No more fannying about with this! This story has taken up too much of my brain space for far too long, and I need to be moving on to other things. So it WILL be done, and sent off for alpha reading, so I can get on with one of the other million ideas incubating in my brain.

I should probably make a start on finding an alpha reader at some point, too…

And what about CampNaNoWriMo?

I am 395 minutes away from my goal of 1200. I’m behind where I should be, but not by much (less than 10 minutes) and I’m sure I’ll make it up this afternoon.

We’re in the home stretch now so – be productive, do the things, be good, be kind, and stay hydrated! You’ve got this!

A Public Declaration

Some valuable lessons and words of wisdom here.

And if you like fantasy and haven’t already purchased Mr Stay’s very fine novel, The End of Magic, might I suggest that you do so posthaste. It really is an absolutely cracking read!

Mark Stay Writes

We had a pivotal episode of the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. We finally revealed if we made our target of ten thousand copies sold of Back To Reality by the end of Glastonbury weekend. You can listen here…

EP208: Glastonbury Or Bust – Did We Make It?

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that we didn’t make it. However, if failure is a teacher then we learned an awful lot. Here were the big lessons for me…

  • Write a series – It’s much more difficult to sell a standalone book using advertising tools (Amazon Merchandising Services, Facebook Ads, Bookbub, Publisher Rocket) that are best designed to sell more than one product. So guess what I’m writing next…?
  • Not being able to use AMS in the UK hurt our chances of success. Yes, I know some authors have managed to use loopholes to run ads in the UK…

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The Best Part of Camp(NaNo)

I’m in control.

I can change my mind, change the rules, change my project, change my goals.

And that’s brilliant because I’ve been feeling conflicted, uneasy about my project(s) for Camp. Even before Camp started. Because the plan was based on the fact that I have two projects bumping around in my brain space. I was going to try to give time to both of them. It’s a solid plan. It’s been done before (I’m looking at you, Robyn 😉). There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible.

But four days in, my uneasiness has been proven warranted. This plan is not working for me and I would rather do one thing really well than two things poorly.

Which brings us to the New Plan:

  • Number 19 is, once again, on the backburner. I am definitely going to get it done this year, but not this Camp.
  • All focus will now be on my as yet untitled poetry project, which we’ll call ??? because I can’t think of anything better right now.

You might be asking why I’ve chosen to focus on the “new” ??? over the longer-lived Number 19. You might accuse me of Squirrel Mind or Shiny New Idea Syndrome.

Well, certainly that’s an element, but it’s not the whole story, and it isn’t an entirely new idea – before I ever dreamed I could write a novel, I dreamed of writing a book of poems. I made a fair start on one in high school which can only be described as ‘the pretentious ramblings of one who has no experience of life, the world, or indeed anything outside their own skull’. I will not be recycling any of those works.

Even that is not the whole of the thing, but it must be enough of the thing to satisfy you until I make a more formal announcement about ???, with an actual title and details and things.

So, if you’re taking part in this Camp, remember that YOU’RE in control, YOU make the rules, and you can do it!