I was going to get stuck into my manuscript this morning—the world is calling me and it’s hard to ignore it—but I decided to write this blogpost for a few reasons. One, to give you an idea of time frames on my next release, and two, to share with other creative people out there who might be feeling a little lost. In fact, anyone really who woke up one morning and realised that something about them had changed and…they weren’t entirely sure what to do about it.
I’m not talking ‘lost’ in the sense of identity crisis or anything that drastic but lost as in when their method of creation changed without them truly noticing and threw everything they knew of their processes and methods out the window.
Way back when…when I was first tapping away on my keyboard hoping to tell somewhat readable stories, I never plotted. I followed the story the way the characters gave it to me and penned whatever they wanted—which was sometimes a good thing (exciting twists that I didn’t see coming) and sometimes bad (writing myself into a dead end).
When Tears of Tess popped into my head, that was the first book that I ‘sketched’ out, but definitely not the last that I vied off course quite a few times while writing it. As Tess and Q evolved, chapters changed, entire sections of the book were different to what I’d plotted, and I ended up with a blend of a plotted and panstered book (write by the seat of your pants).
Over the last decade of publishing, I’ve maintained this 50/50 process. Every series I’ve done (Indebted, Dollars, Goddess Isles) have all had a sketch per book, cliff-hangers noted, and overall story arc written down before I even typed the first word. However, those plots ALWAYS change rather drastically. It’s kind of like having a colouring-in book with a rudimentary shape in the middle that then becomes more and more intricate as new shapes are added within it. Yes, the shape is still the same, but the content in the shape is something I couldn’t have drawn without painting one and then another and so forth, all evolving depending on what was painted before.
So…that is my method and it has been good to me.
Souls of Sand and Smoke came along.
Because this world has been in my head for years and I have THOUSANDS of words noted down for plot, character, world, magic, romance, hardship, and all the rest that goes into a fantasy book, my ‘sketching’ of the plot became a nightmare. To date, I have written close to 200,000 words on the first book, and you’d think I’d be announcing a release date very soon. What author would commit 4 months to writing 200,000 words only to stop mid-sentence one day, feel all the magic deflate, and realise…the story was not the one she wanted to tell.
The one in her head is RICH in myth, magic, and mystery. It has infinite layers, complex characters, and a world that has taken on a life of its own—not to mention the romance between the hero and heroine gives her butterflies. And…unfortunately, what was put on paper was…lacking. It was wishy-washy, unsubstantial, and not at all the vibrant richness that she hoped.
She is me, obviously.
So…a few weeks ago, I made the choice to scrap all 200,000. Sure, I can salvage a paragraph here and possibly even a small section of a chapter, BUT almost every word of the past 4 months of work has been CTRL ALT DELETED.
Is this sad? Well, yes because I didn’t go out of my way to waste 4 months of my life and I would’ve loved to have a release this month because it’s been so long (too long) since my last book. However, it’s also not sad because those 200,000 words proved to me that my method of plot/pantsing no longer works.
My method has changed.
After a decade of publishing, I have been forced to revert back to giving up control…all in the name of writing a story that is so complex in my head—so twisted in secrets and power—that I myself can’t even see the full picture. I try and write a plot but there are so many layers that it’s almost impossible to say how one scene will merge with another until I’ve LIVED the chapter myself.
I also fell into the trap of trusting other’s judgements over my own. I’ve never been insecure about my work. I’ve always written what I wanted and accepted that some would love it, and some would hate it, and I never took it personally. I value and love my beta readers above all things (and am constantly amazed they actually want to read my ramblings). I’ve had some betas since I started publishing and they are as important to me as my editor and cover designer because without them I couldn’t do this. I like to think that I ask for negative critique far more than positive, purely so I can improve and never once needed my hand holding or false praise to get me through.
But this has also changed.
My method of sending off 20,000 words or so at a time to 5 betas while I’m writing is no longer working. Partly because, how can I expect an amazing beta to critique my book when they have NO idea where I’m going with it? Sometimes, a chapter can seem completely convoluted on its own but the next will reveal why and they fit together but not apart. I’ve read books myself where some parts I’m editing in my head (wondering if they could’ve trimmed certain areas) only to find that toward the end of the book, that seemingly innocent chapter is the keypin to everything. It’s that magic of being able to weave a story, sometimes with a bland strand of words, followed by the most colourful spritz of revelations that make up an addicting tale that feels robust and rich instead of just one-dimensional.
Because the doubts were starting to niggle when I first put pen to paper for Souls of Sand and Smoke, I leaned more heavily on my beta’s comments because my mind couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. By relying on their feedback more than my own, I lost myself even more. It’s very important to take outside opinion’s onboard about your work, to accept critique with an open heart and gratefulness because it is given in the best intentions, but there comes a point where you do have to trust yourself a little more.
After all, you are the architect of this story. No one else.
A favourite beta of mine and close friend confided in me that she didn’t like most of The Boy and His Ribbon, yet combined with The Girl and Her Ren it’s one of her favourite books she’s ever read. At the time, I hadn’t gotten her early thoughts on The Boy and His Ribbon, but imagine if I had and I’d let self-doubt creep in. I might never have finished that book because I would’ve tried to fix it in a way that wouldn’t have been right to the story. I’m not saying it’s the best book in the world, and I see obvious flaws in it (as I do all my work and why I love my betas so much to help me solve them) but in the end, that book is all me. I wrote from the heart and didn’t get in the way of the plot or characters. I let it flow and published what was given to me by Ren and Della—in fact, I think I ignored most beta readers comments on that book (rightly or wrongly) just because I FELT their story so strongly and couldn’t envision it any other way.
It was that memory of how it felt to just let the story flow like magic instead of try to control it that made me realise that just like my writing method has changed, so too has my method of getting critique. I still value every single beta and can’t believe they willingly give up their time to read my typo-riddled mess of a manuscript (sometimes not just once but multiple times as I change things)…but for this tale, I won’t know their thoughts until the book is on paper. They will be my honest eyes when it’s complete and not before.
It’s hard not to send chapters that I have. Doubt starts to creep in that it’s not okay and my mind whispers that feedback is required. BUT…feedback, plotting, and all my usual methods of creation is what has caused me to toss out 200,000 words.
So…this is my long way to say, I won’t be publishing anything.
I have written Pippin and Mo’s tale and that will be releasing very soon (my wonderful editor, Jenny, has just sent back the proofs) but as far as this fantasy goes, it will be a while. I have 40,000 words of new content. BRAND NEW. Completely changed from the first attempt and
Because I’m going along for the ride and have stopped trying to direct my characters into doing things that I need to tick off in my plot so the book can move along they way I’ve sketched.
I’ve ripped it up over 15,000 words of plotting.
I no longer look at my chapter breakdowns.
I sit down at my laptop with an empty mind and a blank page and let THEM guide my fingers.
It’s…freeing. Liberating. Scary. And exciting. I’m not the one writing this book anymore. They are. I’m merely the pen for it to flow. I can’t say it will be any good and I can’t say you will love it, but what I can say is…I’ve held nothing back. I used to be fearless in my writing because it wasn’t me writing, it was my characters. But…little by little that fearlessness chipped away until I second-guessed themes and certain scenes that are very much offensive and graphic.
It was yet another reason why those first 200,000 words have had to be scrapped. I tried to tone myself down. I told the characters that bloodshed and kink was no longer permitted, but now…wow, now they have free rein and it’s stomach-clenchingly good. (For me at least, because, let’s face it…I like it dark).
I like heroes who are almost unredeemable.
I like heroines who start off lost but end up ruling the world.
I like side characters that own certain scenes and aid the main hero and heroine in so many ways.
And I like pain.
I like to tear them apart, rip them to pieces, and test the brink of the human spirit. But with Souls of Sand and Smoke, I can go even further because it’s not the human spirit I’m playing with…it’s magic. It’s souls that are ripe for torture, that respond with wrath, that do things even I wasn’t expecting.
So there you go…
You CAN teach old dog’s new tricks. I was fairly set in my writing ways. I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to have to start from scratch and not know when I would have a book to release. But…I want to write a good book, a GREAT book, and things needed to change in order to do that.
I cannot WAIT to give you this story.
I cannot wait to write the next chapter because I have no idea what is about to happen.
So, I’ll sign off now as that world is calling and someone is about to get deliciously hurt, all in the name of true love, of course 😊
I hope my confession has helped someone who is at a cross-roads in their craft, their life, their habits. If you’ve changed, go with it! Don’t keep trying to do something that no longer works. Let the evolution happen, embrace it, because you never know what great things will come.