Words for Writers

Words for Writers: The Book(s) That Influenced Me Most Isn’t a Book At All

I was in a Narrative Inquiry/Memoire class during my MA; we were asked to give a talk about the book that influenced us most. While cleaning up my office, I found my presentation.


I found fan fiction in 1991. I was very young, and outside of a classroom, it was the first time in my life I had ever tried to write a story.

For those not in the know, Fan fiction is stories written by fans for fans.  The stories are based on/in and usually include the canonical intellectual properties and media texts of other creators (i.e. books, movies, comics, plays, etc.).  In recent years, large archiving websites have popped up to accommodate this trend in plagiaristic creative writing and art.  The quality of these stories can differ wildly, as anyone with a computer, a few free hours, and an imagination can write and then upload their fan fictions.

Fan fiction has a long history.  The Bronte sisters wrote fan fiction about the Duke of Wellington. Even earlier than that, new stories were being added to the oral narrative A Thousand and One Nights. with each successive telling. Shakespeare cannibalized popular tales and histories of his day to create his own plays. While fan fiction of one sort or another has existed for as long as story telling has, it did not gain the mass popularity it currently holds until the 1960s when the advent of Star Trek fanzines. These first fanzines became the basis for the online fan fiction archives and fanzines as we know them today, though the well of source texts has expanded to include not only Star Trek and its various se- and prequels, but literally thousands of other television series, movies, books, songs, and comics.

And that’s just the stuff that isn’t in bookstores.  Geraldine Brook’s March, the imagined adventures of the absent father in Little Women, and won the National Book Award in 2007. Gregory Maguire has made a career out of intelligent, subtle, and well-written fan fiction, basing books on the untold stories of popular fairy tales and fantasy novels. In 2007, the Great Ormand Street Hospital, copyright holder for J.M. Barrie’s children’s classic Peter Pan authorized a sequel titled Peter Pan in Scarlet. And there are enough Jane Austen variations, revamps, rewrites, sequels, prequels, and parodies to fill a whole bookshelf themselves.

In her 2004 article Works In Progress, Natasha Walter writes that “fan fiction is generally derided as a semi-literate, usually pornographic genre providing nothing but in-jokes for geeks”, but in re-writing, re-contextualizing, by playing in and with, “by putting in the sexuality, the humour and the irony that the original tales often lack, these writers can change the way some readers see the works, and not always negatively…  Indeed,” she presses, when it comes to fan fiction, the internet is giving us back “something like an oral society, in which people can retell the stories that are most important to them and, in so doing, change them… they remind us that the power of these fantasy worlds are not built just on profit and loss, but on imagination responding to imagination”.

Fan fiction is stories re-storied. Fan fiction is offered freely and happily to readers to read, investigate, and re-re-story. A participatory readership that is involved with the continual renegotiation of their own stories, and the stories of the worlds and characters of which they are fans, through re-storying said worlds and characters, and thus themselves.

Fan fiction exists to create a space in which a dialogue which is missing from the subjectivity of the canon can be addressed.  In closely reading, and critiquing the elements of a canonical offering, fans are able to point out gaps in subject and subject positions, but it is through fan fiction that said issues are able to be confronted, addressed, worked with, and written though. Ika Willis, in her essay Making Room For Mary Sue At Hogwarts, says that fan fiction, “as a sharing, as a making legible of these difficult negotiations between subjectivity and textuality, these complicated subject/text/world relations, is a way of reassuring each other that we have what Barthes calls the ‘immoral right’ to make and circulate meanings”.

And as Henry Jenkins has so eloquently in Textual Poachers: “Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations, rather than the folk.”

Taking in, changing, ripping apart and making patchwork bodies of stories offered to me, stories that I woke to, stories that make me up and stories that fan fiction taught me, that is what makes me get up every morning and open my laptop.

It was the early days of internet fan fiction archives, and much of it was on community boards, chat rooms, yahoo groups, archived on personal websites, and in e-newsletters.  While not strictly books themselves, fan fiction is my inspiration, my literary comfort food, my springboard, my practice hall, and my greenhouse.

As a new writer, the fan fiction community welcomed me, taught me how to edit and beta, work with critiques, build long narratives and yes, even how to handle trolls. Every professional skill I have as a writer came from my start in fan fiction.

So, the book that inspires me, keeps me going, gets me through a difficult moment, or evening, or month, the book that opens my eyes, and gives me fresh ways to look at old and stale stories, helps me work through touch scenes and a drought in inspiration… isn’t a book at all. Its a hundred books. Its a million books. It’s every story of every length by every fan fiction writer out there. Ever.

I’ve said before in my blog post Refilling the Creative Well, that


one of the joys of reading fanfiction is that I already know I love the characters and worlds. The fandom settles over me like a warm sweater, the jumper from university that I’ve had for ten years, whose little whorls and pulls and pilled pile I know intimately; I know who these people are, I know where and when they are, and I understand the shorthand of place and setting. Even when the story is an AU or a crossover, the core of the story and the characters remains the same, and that is a comfort. It is home cooking, Mom’s favourite dishes, and I know I will enjoy the meal and not be stuck trying to figure out which fork I’m supposed to be using at the fancy new restaurant. I feel safe reading these stories, and the anxiety of not like the setting or the characters is absent.

I find the writing incredibly fresh. Most of the writers are not professionals. They don’t do this for a living. They don’t have word counts to hit every day, and editing deadlines, and editors/agents/marketing teams guiding their projects. I’m not implying that professional writing is stale or formulaic, only that the modes and motivations of creation inevitably must inform the creation.

Fanfiction writers are truly free to write whatever they want, at whatever pace they want. And the way that some of these writers – either because they know the rules and choose to deliberately break them, or because they don’t know the rules and they are breaking them without knowing it and creating something new and glorious – assemble narratives is stunning.

I intensely enjoy the play aspect of fanfiction. Playing with format, with character, with setting, with narrative, with logic, with the rules. I love how fanfiction can focus on minutiae; how a writer can devote 100 or 100,000 on a character study, how conventions and expectations can be inverted, subverted, and reverted.

I become invigorated. I want to try out some of the things I’ve learned, apply them to my words-on-a-page format of my novels and see if I can make it work. I want to play within the worlds in my head.

I write speculative fiction.

Speculative fiction exists to investigate, to flay open humanity, to explore our deepest hurts and most soaring elations, to celebrate and to condemn us, to be every bit as human as we; to discuss the now by putting it then. Speculative Fiction beckons to the creative, the open-minded and the open-hearted, the imaginers and the wishful thinkers and the honest critics.  I think, I hope that artists who grow up on speculative fiction can’t help but work on speculative fiction, and in doing so think the best of humanity, in humanity’s ability to grow, to learn, to persist. That hope can’t help but shine through in everything they do.

And I also love to play within Grand Narratives. These are the great stories which we are born into and the stories through which our view of the world is shaped. They are the tales that reinforce our hegemonic identities. They are the stories of wolves and little girls and lost shoes told to us at our grandmother’s knee that teach us how to behave, but they are also the cultural stories that shape the way we interact with others, the stories that make us value certain actions over others, that make us dress and behave according to an unconsciously imbibed social code. These are the sacred stories that I hope to not only make mundane in articulating them, but to blaspheme them so wholly that anyone looking to invest in them must take careful steps around the soot to make certain that the choices they make are the ones they want, and not the ones to which they have simply awakened.

I want to use these stories to teach, to knowingly show people the constructedness of their own assumptions and values. I invite them to peer closely at the sacred and wonder why it is so untouchable.  I ask them to reconsider the Grand Narrative in which they situate themselves, and try to shift around in the three dimensional of their own lives and try to peer out at the world through a new facet of the lenses that the Grand Narrative clamps across their eyes. To see the underside of the iceberg before the tip.

Looking back to the first story I ever wrote, that fan fiction, I can see the reflection of the self that I was, and the image of seeds being sewn for the person I am today. Because the tradition of fan fiction sets it as the genre in which we as writers are able to insert what’s missing, what’s deleted; we can speak with the voice that has been silenced, or ignored; we can use the building blocks of the familiar and shift them to tell stories about the unknown, the rarely heard of, the ailments and the struggles and the frustrations that we, ourselves face in our everyday lives; we can explore, extrapolate, swap, shift, crossover, alternate and play. We are the ones who get to say, “Yeah, but what if…?”

These what ifs are the hallmark of fan fiction writers, people who use other people’s stories to tell their own.  Like spiders, fan fiction writers take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, and pull everything together, making a web that is supported by many different fictional universes, modes of creating, and social theories.

Speculative fiction television programs, books, and films taught me that there were stories out there, stories that were sacred to other people, stories that were so unaccountably different from my own.  Worlds where the stories said that women were supposed to be the warriors, men the homemakers, or where men and women were equal in all things, stories where all kinds of love were viable and accepted, stories where everything that we hold religiously sacred was filthy or secular or vice versa, stories where sexual power struggles are on a hierarchy of preference for sexual dominance or submissiveness rather than on biological sex, stories where the ancient myths are fact, and scientific facts are magic.

Speculative fiction opened my eyes to the malleability of stories. And Fan fiction taught me how to put on the gloves and goggles and hold the hot metal and whack it into new shapes with a hammer.  Worlds where the sacred stories are melted down and reformed, or are bent out of all recognizable shapes, or shattered to pieces.

But still, there’s always been this sort of… I don’t know, guiltiness to admitting that I am a current fan fiction reader, and was formerly a fan fiction writer. (I say “formerly” simply because the time I want to spend on my own projects has become too demanding for me to also write fanfic. Sadly. Maybe one day I’ll have time again.)  Fifty Shades of Grey has propelled reading torrid romances and steamy erotica out of the realm of sneaky private baths and false covers to holding such books proudly on the subway.

Perhaps someday soon news presenters and chat show hosts will stop mocking, teasing, and forcing fan creations onto actor/writer/directors to shock reactions out of them (and shame on them! Taking that work out of context and without permission is vile) and will instead see that fan creators are the world’s next pro creators, like New Statesman writer Laurie Penny does.

Fan fiction is a hot house and creative writing school for young, new, enthusiastic talent. And there should be no shame, no guilt, no fear in that. Maybe it just takes people like me standing up and saying, “Hey, look. This matters! This is important, and it is a vital new way to tell stories!”

Well, then.

Here I go.


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: The Book(s) That Influenced Me Most Isn’t a Book At All
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Words for Writers: How Do You Get Anything Done When You Have Lots To Do?


You’re a cool person with a bunch of different talents! How do you manage to focus and make progress on so many different things? Do you have any particular strategies for breaking disparate goals into non-scary steps? Do you ever get overwhelmed?


Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say!

YES. I absolutely get overwhelmed.

In fact, last night, looking at my publishing schedule for the next two years had me reaching for and finishing nearly a whole bottle of wine.

Step #1 for being overwhelmed – accept that you are overwhelmed, that it is a LOT of work, and awknoledge HONESTLY and REALISTICALLY how long it is going to take. Step #2 – call friend, talk it thorugh, and de-stress, adn let this talk with your friend excite you about the project. Step #3 – SLEEP. Everything looks easier when you are well rested and letting your brain do a defrag while you are unconscious ALWAYS makes things more logical and make more sense in the morning.

So, how do I do all my projects and get them in on time…

Mostly, it’s by finding tools and lifehacks to A) NOT PANIC and B) GET IT DONE. It’s taken me about ten years, but these are what I’ve come up with:

The most important tool in my arsenal to prevent panic and to get it done is ORGANIZATION

–          Now, I’m not talking Pantser vs. Plotter, but rather the kind of organization that means everything is exactly where you need it, when you need it, and is found easily.

–              Use the right program for you. I write novels in Scrivener, and comics and screen plays in CeltX. I used to use FinalDraft, and I find it’s more intuitive, but Celtex has the option to have multiple tabs open, and builds a character/location/prop etc. catalogue for you as you type, which is like, half the work when you’re done the script. I love Scrivener because of all the amazing features, and because it makes reorganizing mansuscripts very simple. I am a pantser who plots only as little as necessary, and as such I spend a lot of time playing Jenga with my work as it’s evolving. I love the Targets feature, and teh virtual cork board, so my notes come with me wherever I go. Honestly, Scrivener has saved me HUNDREDS of hours of set up/formatting/not-finding/reorganization time. I will never write in straight-up Word again. (Though I always EDIT in Word because of the stellar Track Changes feature, which in itself saves HOURS AND HOURS of editing time; much better than reading someone’s handwritten notes on a MS and trying to parse what they mean as you transcribe them into the MS.) And with the ability to make notes and keep a digital scratch pad, it’s also helpful because I can write a scene, jump forward and make a note to myself about bringing back something I mentioned in that scene or a special plot point back, then jump back to where I was. I find it is MUCH easier to be creative when I’m not trying to keep EVERYTHING in my head, and I have the answers easily accessible to me when I DO need them.

–              Make an Organization Wall –  My current is whiteboard paint and frames, where I can keep notes for different projects separated, but I’ve used mirrors, taped recipie cards to the wall, used a bulliten board and separated things with ribbons, pit latticework on teh wall and thumb-tacked notes to it, etc. I find this really useful because everything I need to know is available to me in one glance. I have To Do Lists, Who Did I Lend That Thing To Lists, lists of what my characters look like, or themese I want to touch on, or projects I owe people. Basically, if I can make a list out of it, I make a list and I put it on the wall. Some people who come over tell me it’s overwhelming, but for me it’s calming, because I know I have it all up there and therefore cannot forget anything. It also makes it easier to sleep because if things are rolling around and around in my brain, I can get up, write it all on the wall, and go to bed knowing it won’t be forgotten now.

–              Carry a notepad at all times, transfer notes to digital files or rip out pages and tape them up on your organization wall.

–              Keep a Calendar of due dates  – include on teh calendar when you need to have the first draft done by, and when it needs to be turned in, and be reasonable about how much time you need between first and final.

–              Shift priorities if necessary – if something comes in with a higher priority or closer deadline, I shift and shuffle and conga-line things back to accommodate it. And then I inform the other people involved with the other projects of the change and tell them my new expected due date. Everyone appreciates being kept in the loop.

–              As much as you are able, do things as you’re thinking of them. If you think, “I should draft the pattern of that dress” then DO IT RIGHT THEN if your schedule allows for it. That way you wont’ forget about doign it later, or get stressed out when you realize you have seven other things to do. Wash the dishes when you THINK about washing the dishes. Get the mail when you THINK about getting the mail. And if you can’t do it right then, add it to the list right then.  The more you do as you’re thinking about it, the less you’ll have to berate yourself over later.

–              But at the same time, follow the passion – if you are writing and get a SUPER COOL IDEA for a scene later in the script, hop forward and write it! Right then! While you’re excited! There’s no rule saying you have to write anything in order. *I* certainly never do. (Another reason why I love Scrivener) It makes the writing much more fun, I’ve found.

–              Keep all current and active projects on your desktop. (Or, if you have physical things, out where you can see and access them easily, like a sewing table.) I know this doesn’t work for people with cramped quarters, so you’ll have to figure out the best way for that to work for you.

I do this so that I have a very clear picture, every time I turn on my computer of what is still outstanding. This also helps because if I don’t feel like working on a specific project, then I know exactly where to go to find another one that needs attention.

But I keep my current sewing projects on dummies in my living room, so when I’m ready to chill and unwind, I can just swing the fabric onto my lap while I’m watching a movie and hand-stitch on trim or something easy to do with my brain off.

–              Make templates and lists of things that need to get done. I keep templates of invoices, press releases, media releases, etc. so that if someone asks for one, it’s as easy as bringing it up, punching in the details, and sending it off. I have a list of “Things To Do For Each Book Once It’s Finished Being Written” which includes reminders to register the book with Access Copyright and the Public Lending Rights organization, send copies to my hometown library as a donation, write back-cover copy, but together a cover-art-ideas pinterest board, etc. I have a spreadsheet of book review sites and book awards that is still sort of garbled, but when I don’t feel like being creative, I go in to the Excel and straighten it out a bit more.  Each time I’m asked for something that’s not on the list by my publisher/editor/agent, it GOES onto the list for next time. Yeah, doing all this – making the templates and the lists and then actually FOLLOWING them takes a lot of time. Took me weeks. But it saves me panic and anxiety attacks over accidentally missing something, and it makes certain I am prepared for any request I might get.

–              Keep Excels of EVERYTHING. Every cent going out, every cent going in. Keep excels of contacts for reviews or press releases. Keep excels of authors you’ve requested blurbs from, and their responses. Keep excels of

–              Organize your receipts as you get them .I have a plastic acrodian folder that goes with me onto every set and to every writing event, and the pockets are labelled with the categories of allowable tax expenses according to Revenue Canada – Meals, Travel, Hotel, Office, etc. The moment I spend money while “working” I write the name of the event on the receipt and file it. Saves me DAYS come tax time. I know others who do this by taping paper bags to the walls of their entry ways and emptying their wallets or pockets as soon as the come in the house, and others who keep different folders in their office filing cabinets, etc. It’s a real time saver, because you never go “Now, why did I spend that money? What was this cab FOR again?” and wasting time looking it up.

I know this all makes me sound really, really anal, but the truth is the more organized you are the easier it is to just do the thing, get it done and out of your way, and keep yoru brain decluttered so you can focus on the creating part of things.

Give each project a specific time, and keep things running in the background.

For example, my voice acting. I try to do all my recording for auditions all on one day, at one time. But I also keep profiles up online, and always have messages up in all places where people might be looking into me and my work stating how to get in contact with me and that I’m seeking representation. This is a very passive way to get work, but it does get me work sometimes.

I also try to only do one project at a time. I work on one novel, and then a script when the novel is done, and then a cosplay when the script is done. But I also keep open to the possibility that I might have an awesome dream or thought that will be great in another project and allow myself to ditch everything to work on that one for a bit while the excitement is still there. That way the voice of the book remains consistent and I can focus on the narrative.

Be ruthless about what you say yes to.

In the beginning I said yes to everything because I wanted to get my name and my work out there. Now I find that I receive more invitations than I can reasonably accommodate, and I’ve had to cut back on my convention appearances, blurbing books, and submitting shorts to anthologies. I weigh each project carefully, and try to figure out if it will foul up my delivery dates for other things and/or if it will do anything to further my own career or exposure. But I’m not totally ruthless – I say yes anything that sounds really super fun, especially if it’s something I’ve never done before (like being a Stage Kitten at a Burlesque show at Pride! That was cool!). I also say yes to things that help out charities and initiatives that I support, and that could help give back to my community or give a boost to another writer/actor whose work I feel needs more exposure.

But submitting to contests, or being asked to do free work, or anything that will eat into my time and isn’t guaranteed to give back? Nah. Not worth it.

Beg for timeline extensions if you need to.

Publishing and the entertainment industry are pretty hurry-up-and-wait. There’s generally always wiggle room.

Don’t get caught with your pants down.

For example: Don’t just write a script, also write the one-page synopsis, the treatment, the cast list, the locations list, the one-paragraph pitch, and the elevator pitch. That way if someone asks for it, you have it, and it’s easy to send it along. This goes a long way to avoiding panic and meltdowns and losing sleep to create these documents and get them to someone now now now.

Be honestly aware of how long it takes for your name/work/project to be recognized and known.

I know people who start a business, or a project, or a amagazine, or whatever, and if they’re not internet-famous within six months, give up and start something new.

My name and my work now come up on Google searches, and there are press resleases about my forthcoming work, and people introduce me at parties as “this is J.M. Frey and she’s going to do a project with our company,” and that is all super duper cool.

But all of that has really only started happening in the last year.

What you probably don’t know is that:

-I was a child actor, and have been working on building my resume, going to acting classes, and doing auditions for about twenty years. I had an agent for a while, until he effed off with everyone’s money in 2010, and I’m still seeking a new one. And I work maybe once per year.

-I began voice acting in 2005, and have done bunches of workshops and classes, and have been looking for steady voice acting work and a voice acting agent for a decade now. I book work maybe once per year.

-It took me ten years to get to the Master Level in cosplay, with some really hilarious fails.

-My parents spent thousands on braces, dance lessons, singing lessons, and acting groups when I was a child.

-I began writing short stories in 1990 and fan fiction in 1991; I was NEVER a Big Name Fan and had no big fan following to convert into an origi-fic audience when I began writing original work

-My debut novel was 64 drafts, and I wrote and rewrote it nearly constantly over three years.

-I submitted to over sixty agents and small presses before I was accepted.

– I spend on average three times as much as I make on marketing, equipment, and supplies for both my acting and my writing businesses. (Thank god I can claim all of this on my taxes!)

– The WRITING part of writing is SLOW and a SLOG and it is BORING. I write about 1.2k words per hour, and the last time I was tested I wrote 65 WPM. As the averge length of my manuscripts is about 100-120k words, that means it takes me about 100-120 hours to write JUST THE FIRST DRAFT of a book, and that DOES NOT COUNT the rewrites, the dithering time, the stuff that I write and then cut out, etc.  It’s probably closer to 200 hours for a first draft, and that’s only the ACTUAL WRITING time. That’s not the getting-up-for-a-tea time, or going-for-a-walk-to-brainstorm time, or any of the rest of it. And I’m sure editing takes probably about 5 hours per thousand words, or thereabouts, for me.

Now, these are MY numbers, and not a fair metric for yourself, because you might do things faster, or slower, or whatever, or have better luck or breaks. There’s no knowing how long anything will actually take, but be prepared for it to be a long time and have the mental strength to stick it out anyway.

Try to combine exercise and work if you can. Here’s how I do it:

Make yourself accountable to people.

-Do NaNoWriMo or the 24 hour script competition, or any of those contests that are about just sitting down and vomiting it out. Have fun, make art, meet people, get a built-in support system, and have fun!

-Tell people what you’re trying to achieve, so they’ll root you on and celebrate with you when you get there. (My favourite text to send is: “FIRST DRAFT IS DONE!! BOOZY BOOTY CALL NOW! SEE YOU AT THE BAR IN TWENTY!”)

-Set a daily deadline. For me it is 5k words per day. If I can’t hit that, I don’t beat myself up, and I don’t try to make up the next day. I accept that today it just didn’t happen. And if I hit my 5k and I want to keep going, I do. I’ve had 10k days before.

-Also try to set a daily schedule. Carve out project time and tell people that’s what it is, and then make it sacred. For example, “7pm-8pm is my project time. I will answer that email, text, facebook request, etc. at 8:01.”

Give yourself time to NOT work.

-keep weekends for not work, or any time after 6pm, or whatever. Give yourself permission to chill. You’ll be more productive when you’re back at it if you’re relaxed, well fed, well socialized, well hydrated, and well rested.

And to be a bit facetious about it…

I also have no pets, no spouse, no children, no day job, and for a while I had no cable and no internet at home!  So if I was BORED, I worked on a project. And when I needed the internet, I took my laptop to the local bar, hung out in the back corner with the bartenders, and updated my websites, etc. from there and got my socialization time in at the same time.

I hope this was all helpful to you!



For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: How Do You Get Anything Done When You Have Lots To Do?
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Words for Writers: My Writing Sucks and I Hate Everything Or, Being A Writer While Human

When I sat down to write this NaNoWriMo pep talk, I was 10k behind and feeling sick.

Not the cold that’s going around, but a gnawing, mild sense of nausea that no amounts of ginger tea and/or red wine seem to be able to dissipate. For the last three evenings, after work, I had not sat down to my computer. I had, instead, finished reading three books that have been languishing in my TBR basket, repotted all my outdoor herbs and plants in their container gardens for the winter, had done no less than seven loads of laundry (most of it things like curtains and blankets that suddenly, inexplicably, seemed to need a wash), and filed all of my expense receipts. (Which, by the way, my friends will tell you that I never do before tax season).Yes. I was procrasti-cleaning.Why?Because I suddenly and inexplicably hated my novel.

Twenty thousand words and a good handful of chapters in, and I hated my novel. I thought it was trite. It was clichéd. It was boring. There was nothing compelling about it and I should just stop and save everyone in the world the pain of having to even know the book ever existed! I was a terrible writer! I sucked! I was a boring, trite, shallow human being and everything I made was boring, trite and shallow!


Right. So. You know those feels, right?

Sure you do. You might be battling them right this moment. I always battle them between 25-35k. I’ve had twelve years of NaNoWriMo and I still start procrasti-cleaning and despising my book between 25-35k. It’s a dark, horrible creature that sits on your shoulder and says “This is awful, you’re a hack, this is a waste of your time.”

1667 words per day is a slog, especially if you don’t type fast. Even more so if you fall behind and have to try to make it up. The greyness of routine, the lack of sleep, three weeks of being a shut in and missing your friends and family, those are all hard, and they compound the feelings of “I suck” ness.

But guess what? Monsters can be slain.

You don’t suck.

You don’t.

So first things first: flick that creature right off your shoulder. It’s a LIAR.

Nobody, but NOBODY sucks. Nobody is shallow. Nobody is worthless. And neither are any of the stories anybody wants to tell.

In the words of The Doctor:

Second things second: Sometimes the book’s perceived suckiness comes from being just plain weary. Give your creative well time to replenish itself. Read a comic, watch a TV show, go see a film. Go have a nice dinner with friends and family, reconnect with your social circle for a few hours. Take a night off from writing, if you need to. Go to bed early. Spend time with other human beings. Take a bubble bath. Drink a liter of water and eat something healthy. Take the dog for a really long ramble. Go to a museum. Go do something, anything that isn’t writing your book. Even for an hour. Then come back to your book energized.

Third things Third: And then have a good old think about your book. WHAT about it sucks? Is it that you don’t know where the plot is going? That you hate the MC? That you’ve suddenly realized that you’re telling it from the wrong POV? Is it that it just suddenly bores you? That you’ve realized that it’s a shallow ripoff of something else? Or is it something in your personal life that’s getting in the way? (I, for example, am currently dealing with the $#!%-storm that is my hate-blogger being finally unmasked.)

Once you’ve figured out where the problem is, don’t worry it like a popcorn kernel stuck behind your tooth. Work around it. And don’t stress. First off, finding problems with a story is normal. God, I am still not totally happy with my published books. That doesn’t invalidate everything you’ve already done.

Maybe what you did is just fine and you just needed a breather. Maybe you just needed a little vacation for an hour. Maybe you need to rejig the plot, or read your research notes. Or the conversations you had with friends and fellow writers about why you were excited to write this novel in the first place.

Maybe what you did is salvageable. Maybe you can Frankenstein it. Maybe you can just jump ahead and write the bits that you know you have worked out already. Maybe you could skip straight to the ending, write the climax to get you excited again and remind yourself why you loved this story.

Maybe you’ve realized you told the story from the wrong POV; that’s okay, start again from the right one. Maybe, just maybe, you need to walk away from this novel and just… begin fresh. That’s okay too. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Maybe, if you morgue it, you might get an idea that will help you resurrect it next year. Just own up to your word count, and keep going with a new idea.

NaNoWriMo is, yes, about writing a novel. But more than that, it is about learning who you are as a writer. NaNoWriMo is about how you like to write, and what you like to write.

And if you learn halfway through that you aren’t connecting with this book, then that’s fine. Write a different one. Write a better one. Or, take the breathing space you need to find out why you’re not connecting, and fix it.

But most importantly, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for having gotten as far as you have.

(And as for me, what was mobilizing my procrasti-cleaning? I found the plot too shallow and boring. So I had a friend over, made a roast, drank a bottle of wine, and explained. Together we found a way to weave some of my social passions into the narrative, and suddenly all these ideas were sparking off the page! The ending is the same, but it means something totally different now! My characters are essentially identical, but their deeper passions and motivations are more compelling, more driving. And the story is far more topical – I’ve been reading a lot of headlines and Tumblr blogs that have helped. I was telling the right story; but I was telling it the wrong way.)

Some of the best advice about the “I Hate My Work” phase of writing given was this:

*GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE A LITTLE BIT CRAP You can fix it later. No really, you can. If you need to, add some comments or notes into the MS, and just motor on through.

*NO ONE NEEDS TO SEE YOUR FIRST DRAFT Honestly. You can bury it forever in the back yard, or throw it into a bonfire, or put it in a drawer forever. Or you can put it away for a little white and come back to it in a few years with fresh eyes. Or you can put it away until the NaNo editing phase kicks in. The truth is, the only eyes that need see the draft is yours – you’re not obligated to share it until you think it’s been polished and is ready to share. WRITING MAKES STORIES, EDITING MAKES NOVELS This is so important. You can always go back in and add layers of meaning, or clarification scenes, or sub plots. You can always punch up dialogue or make sure the right senses are being evoked. This is all stuff that you can go back and consciously put in during the editing phase. Writing your first draft is like making the playdough. Once it’s made, then you can go back and use the medium to shape it into a novel.

*50k DOES NOT AN ACTUAL NOVEL MAKE Do you know how long the last novel I wrote for NaNo ended up being when I signed it over to the publisher? 78k. And the novel before that? 140k. The point of my telling you is this: your novel will live on after NaNo. You will still be working on it after December 1st. (If you’re like me, you could still be working on your novel from four NaNos to this very day.) So if right now it’s not right, it’s not perfect, it’s not what you want it to be, then that’s okay. It takes time to shape these sorts of things, and the time it takes is different for each person and each novel. You don’t have to get it totally right by 50k and you don’t have to get it totally complete by 50k either. Know that you have breathing room.

In summary/TL;DR –

You’re probably in the mid-NaNo doldrums. You’re probably battling the headspace that says everything you write sucks hard. I am too, so I get it.

The truth is, it doesn’t.

Take some time to reward yourself for how far you’ve come, and to rekindle the fire that pushed you to do NaNo on November 1st. Take some time to decipher if the feelings of suck are because the novel has genuine issues, and if it does, try to figure out how to solve them. If you can’t, write around them for now, and come back to them later.

Your novel doesn’t have to be perfect now. You have all the time in the world to write more, edit, and polish the book after NaNo is over.

Breathe. Sleep. Drink water. Eat healthy. Go for a walk. Be awesome. You’re already awesome. You’re a writer.


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: My Writing Sucks and I Hate Everything Or, Being A Writer While Human
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Words for Writers: NaNoWriMo Still Matters

As NaNoWriMo 2014 approaches – my twelveth go at it – I am rushing to finish applying edits that I made in a red pen to a paper copy of my 2012 NaNo manuscript to the digital version and get it off to my proofreader. I am a little behind on getting ready for NaNo this year. Okay, a lot behind.

As in, I haven’t even really decided what I’m doing.

A few conversations with friends have thrown some ideas that I had for a novel into the fan, where it’s been chopped up and I’ll need to reassemble what’s come out the other side. A few other conversations has revealed some flaws with the ending of said 2012 NaNo MS, and has me considering the possibility of writing a sequel novella to go with the book.

And a look at my ever-increasing To Do list and Anthology Invitations has me thinking that maybe I should scrap the idea of a new novel all together and use the peer pressure of the NaNo wordcount to play catch-up.

Basically, I’m stressed.

What began for me as a fun way to push myself to write a long fanfic, and then to write original stories is now sort of in the way. The meetups are all scheduled horribly for me, I have become a terrible introvert when I’m writing and prefer silence and darkness to help me focus so the write-ins are counterproductive, and the thought of slogging through 50k of new stuff that my agent hasn’t seen or approved yet and might veto at the end of it is horrifying.

I am also contemplating… cheating. I’ll be AFK for three days at the start, and I keep thinking that if I just write that 4k NOW, then I’ll be on track once I get back. But that is totally against the spirit of the thing.

In short, I think I’ve outgrown NaNoWriMo.


But—! But—! I don’t want to! I love the community, I love the challenge, I love the rush of surpassing your word count for the day. I’ve already bought my notebook for this year, and gave my donation. I’ve already begun to post in the forums, and I’ve already put a novel up on my profile.

I love the literacy and arts therapy that the Office of Letters and Light promote, I love the Young Writer’s Program, and Camp NaNo. I love how important this has become for people, for their hearts, and their heads, and their lives. I love 30 Covers in 30 Days. I love that this matters to people. I love that, yes, there are published authors out there whose NaNo MSes are now purchasable at your local bookstore (including mine), but more than that, I love that there are millions of stories out there in the world, now, that there weren’t before.

NaNoWriMo matters.

But does it still work for me?

This is a question I assume many NaNoers ask themselves every year.

Not only are there questions of how well writing 1700 words daily works for an individual’s personal writing style, but whether November is a good time of year this time around, and if they even have a project ready to start fresh.

I want to be honest, here. I walked away from this blog post for about three hours. Yup, writing the above bolded section made me upset. Sad, that perhaps it was true that my time with NaNo was over. Angry, because aren’t I supposed to be a professional writer, dammit? Shouldn’t I find a way to MAKE it work? Upset because I feel so overwhelmed right now, so many ideas and not enough time to do them in. Resentful because I can’t seem to write that one project that will enable me to quit my dayjob and be a full time storyteller. Jealous of my fellow pro NaNoers who managed to NaNo up a New York Times Bestseller. Guilt because I talk so highly of the NaNo community and I don’t go out to near as much as I could, don’t participate on a level that I wish I could make myself do, that I haven’t had the stones to stand up and be a Mod or a ML, that I hide so often behind the excuse of “No, I have to write, I have things do to People. Important Things for Important People.”

It left me with a lot of roiling emotion.

I felt just crummy in general, because maybe it really was time to throw in the towel and declare my days of NaNoing over. I thought for a long time about what I love about NaNo, why I started, what it means to me and realized this:

I don’t want to go.

So maybe I’m a poor community person, and maybe sometimes I have to cheat a little to make sure that I get my wordcounts in, and maybe I don’t always start on a fresh project like you’re supposed to.

But you know what I always do?

I write.

It doesn’t matter what, and it doesn’t matter when, and it doesn’t matter what the project is.

In November, I write. And that? That I don’t want to give up. That I never want to give up.

So I’m a bit of a cheat, and a bit selfish with my time, and a bit of a sneak, but I am also a writer.

NaNoWriMo – for twelve years – has given me that.

And that is why I will come back. Every year. Always.

And if that’s what NaNoWriMo means to you, if that’s what makes your heart beat fast and your passion sizzle, then do it. Do it however you have to – be a bit selfish, be a bit of a cheat, be a bit of a sneak – but do it.


That’s all NaNo is asking of you. Allow you to ask it of yourself, too.


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: NaNoWriMo Still Matters
Read more