Untitled, because this post did its own thing entirely, but at least there’s a poem?*

*This post did not turn out the way I’d intended it to. It was supposed to be a summary of what I’ve been up to, and some useful links I’ve come across, along with some pretty pictures of my cat and my hourglass. I’ll have to save those for a later post though, because this is what came out of me tonight, and I need to get to bed before I revert back to my natural zombie state!

It’s been a while since I posted anything and there are a few reasons (be warned, I was struck with verbosity during this post, so continue at your peril):

  1. I’m pretty lousy at sticking to a schedule in terms of blogging. When life gets busy, I have a tendency to avoid the internet like the proverbial plague. It’s a way of keeping my sanity intact.
  2. Work was draining the life out of me. Although my colleagues were great, and I could work from home – I was expected to be on social media, reading mainstream news articles, and writing my own. I hated it. While it may be the lifeblood of people who thrive on political debate, and journalists with predatory instincts for a good story, I just couldn’t convince myself to enjoy it. I tried, I really did. But it was making me miserable, and for someone who has depression, that’s not the greatest space to be in. So I quit. I cannot begin to describe the relief I feel at not having to plug into that every day. It feels like I can breathe again. Having said that, working from home for an online company, with deadlines and targets, forced me to sit down and write, even when I didn’t feel like it. It’s given me a level of discipline and focus I didn’t have before, and taught me some really valuable lessons about what I do (and don’t) want in a writing career.
  3. Ghostwriting – Oh yes! Quitting my job meant I needed to find another source of income. Ghostwriting fiction gives me that income and allows me to focus on what I’m passionate about – telling stories. The best thing about it is that the pressure is off to deliver a perfect first draft, because it’s not being published under my name. And ironically, because of that, I’ve been able to create and share some of my best stories and characters in the short space of a month, compared to the last 15 years of writing! I will always be a perfectionist when it comes to telling a good story, but ghostwriting has given me the confidence to tackle my own ideas with a bit more leeway for mistakes.

Because life got so crazy for a while, I needed to step back and figure out what my priorities were. Depression was kicking my butt, and I nearly messed up some really important relationships because of it. Motivation and energy were so hard to come by – and part of the problem was that I didn’t want to acknowledge I was actually depressed. I had some weird idea that acknowledgement meant it had won, and that I would never be okay again. I thought that pretending everything was okay, and ignoring reality would, in fact, make everything okay. It didn’t. It made things worse. Much worse.

No one who hasn’t had depression will ever be able to fully understand what it’s like to have no reason to feel absolutely and thoroughly de-motivated. I think the thing that comes closest to describing it for me personally, is this:

I live a thousand lies,
To hide a single truth;
That everything’s pretense,
Every smile a mask –
A deceit to give you peace of mind.

I live a thousand lies,
Each morning when I wake
To greet you for the day;
You do not know that deep within,
In dreams I’d choose to stay.

I live a thousand lies,
Every time I say I’m well;
And no one ever seems to see,
The truth behind the ‘me’.

Yet still, I’ll live the lies,
A thousand every day
And the single truth of what I want,
Well hidden it will stay.

(Keep reading for the rest of the poem)

One of the biggest realisations I’ve had in the last month, is that depression is not an excuse to check out of taking responsibility for my life. At the end of the day, this is my life, and while I may sometimes struggle to function on a very basic level (can I just stay in bed forever?), that’s not a reason to give up. There is never any reason to give up.

I am fortunate in that I’ve got an incredible support system in my friends. They are the ones who’ve encouraged me to talk about how I feel, acknowledge when I have bad days, and celebrate the good ones. I am so incredibly grateful to them for not allowing me to use depression as an excuse to check out; for letting me talk and vent and cry without judgement; and for offering me practical help (like driving me to the clinic so I could get some homeopathic remedies for support).

And they are the reason for this poem continuing:

Until the day will come,
When I’ll remove the mask
Certain you’ll turn away,
Disgusted by my lies.

Then the hope that I’ve been seeking
Will suddenly shine bright,
For you have seen my deepest lie
And still embraced my light.

One by one my thousand lies,
Will slowly fall away,
And in their place I’ll hold the truth:
That I was born to live!

The only time I ever take selfies is when it’s the only way to get a photo of one of my animals being adorable. Meet Paladin, who was formerly Stray Cat, and is now just a smooshy bundle of love:

Paladin
Paladin demanding loves while I attempt to write.

Positive-negative book reviews: What are they, and how do they help you?

As I delve into the world of book reviewing, I’ve been noticing a trend among authors to get rather despondent if reviewers give their books less than four stars on the rating scale.

As an author myself, I can completely relate to wanting everyone to absolutely love my books, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

As an editor and reviewer, I can tell you right now that a positive-negative review is far better on the rating scale than a besotted and raving five star review will ever be (at least where other prospective readers are concerned).

First off, what is a positive-negative review?

This is a review that garners three or fewer stars on the rating scale, but; and this is important, still ends the review with positive feedback for the author.

When writing a positive-negative review – I really need to come up with a shorter name for that… PNr? That works. Now, where was I?

When writing a PNr, the reviewer will typically start with a list of “don’t likes” or, negatives. Some of these may be personal preferences, others will be technical such as editing mistakes. Whatever it is about the book that put the reader off, will be listed first.

To end the PNr, the reviewer will focus on aspects she did like. Whether it’s a relationship between characters, the humour in the writing, or even the style of writing, these are the characteristics that will balance the review from being negative, to being positive-negative.

A review that’s written in this format, is really helpful to both authors and readers, in spite of the sting that can come with the critiques and lower rating.

Why are positive-negative reviews good for authors?

A PNr gives a balanced perspective of a story that some critical readers will often overlook if reviews are too positive.

The Writing Cooperative states:

[Customers] will usually first note the number of total reviews — as a gauge of popularity — and then look at the average rating, and then possibly browse the content of the reviews. If they do, they normally read (more likely scan) one or two of them. And if they are like most people, they skip the positive ones and read a negative one first, before going back to a positive one (if they even do that).

A PNr; in this case, is really beneficial based on this trend, because if your rating is low, but the review ends on a positive note, readers are more likely to be willing to give your book a chance to let them decide for themselves.

Gigi Griffis posted the results of a really great survey on her blog, which states:

As for what we’re looking for in those reviews…mentions of typos and bad grammar are (by far) the thing most likely to put us off (self-published authors take note: hiring a copy editor is well worth it). A dragging middle (25%), unbelievable plot line (21%), ending people hated (21%), and unlikeable main character (20%) were also significant detractors. And 16% of respondents said they don’t want to buy a book with a cliffhanger ending.

A quick caveat: PNrs should not dip below three stars unless the book is literally a hot mess of poor grammar, atrocious spelling and terrible formatting that make it painful to read.

As Neal Wooten states in this article for Huffington Post:

If a book is well-written and well-edited, it should never get less than a three-star review. Just because you were not able to tell what the story was about from the book description, or if the story didn’t appeal to you as much as other books, is no reason to give a professional book a one or two-star review. That’s just petty. Stories are subjective, and just because it didn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to someone else. Explain in your review why you didn’t like the story. That’s what reviews are for.

Not only that, but PNrs often offer some really useful feedback, which, if you’re serious about improving as a writer, you may be able to implement in future projects. Obviously, take this with the DIWTTTSOM pinch of salt (Do I Want To Tell Their Story Or Mine?).

Why are positive-negative reviews good for readers?

As a reader with very limited time on my hands to read a book just for the sake of reading it, I love PNrs.

I will very seldom buy a book that only has positive, rave reviews. I’m a critical reader, and deliberately avoid the best-sellers list, seeking out indie authors and self-published books in an effort to support writers who are doing what I aim to do. In cases like this, I admit to assuming (wrongfully, I would hope), that if the smattering of reviews are all four stars or more, they’re written by friends and family who are supporting the author.

Unless those reviews are exceptionally well-written, I’m more likely to be wary of buying a book that only has positive feedback.

As a disclaimer, there are readers who claim to only read books with 4+ ratings on the bestsellers list. If there’s a lower review in there, they’ll bypass the book entirely. In my opinion, this is grossly unfair to new, or little known authors, as they’re the ones you’re skipping by judging books on these criteria. It’s also incredibly limiting to your ability to read widely, but that’s a rant for another day.

Why are positive-negative reviews good for reviewers?

As a reviewer, part of what you’re trying to cultivate (I may be wrong, here) is an ability to think critically about a story.

Rating books based on your personal opinion is all well and good, as long as you recognise that your review is subjective.

PNrs allow you to take a step back from your emotions, review both positive and negative features of the book for a reader who may not necessarily share all your opinions, and then give a rating that is still true to your preferences.

Not only does writing a review like this give you the advantage of considering all the options, but it also allows you to provide a far more satisfying five star review for the books that truly earn it.

As Wooten’s article states:

A five-star review should be for a book that has everything: good writing, good editing, and a story that makes you want to read it again and tell your friends about. Some people are too generous, which is generally not a bad trait to have in life. But I’ve looked at all the reviews of some reviewers to find that they’ve given a five-star review to all 30 books they’ve read. And while it’s very polite, it doesn’t serve the purpose for potential new readers. Seriously, nobody could be that lucky.

To summarise, reviewers generally really want to like every book they read. We don’t like criticising books for the sake of it; and if we do give a PNr, please acknowledge it for the advantages it carries, and the time it took to write.

For examples of some PNrs I wrote, take a look at this review, and this one.

As a reader, what sort of reviews make you sit up and take note of a book? I’d love to know your thoughts on PNrs: do you find them useful, or would you prefer rave reviews?

Editing Tips Tuesday – Things you never thought need editing, but probably do.*

*FRIENDLY WARNING: This post is mostly perfectionist nitpicking. Read at peril of your sensitive souls.

The general consensus by writers is that editing is a pain in the *bleep* and they’d rather not. Just … not.

I get it. Editing is hard. It requires concentration, knowledge, and a certain skill in understanding complicated concepts such as the English language (if you’re writing in English that is).

As humans, we’re prone to making mistakes. It’s normal, common and even endearing. (When I eat all the chocolate without sharing it, that’s a cute mistake right?)

Anyway … moving on.

Not everyone is an editor by default. Spelling and grammar aren’t necessarily important to you, and while I may not always understand it, I can accept it. Mostly. (Every now and then I have to resist the twitches that occur.)

That being said, I feel it’s important that as writers/editors on social media we become aware of some things. Since I’m also a know-it-all, I’ve made it my job to share these things with you. You’re welcome.

Hermione Know it all

Things you never thought need editing, but probably do:

  • Your website. If you have one, and you’re a writer, a poorly edited website doesn’t really give readers a lot of confidence in your ability to write. I’m not talking about the design – I’m talking about the content on your webpages. When you create it, update it, or if you’ve been around for years and learnt a whole bunch of writing tricks you now decide to implement on your site, make sure to run it past an editor. Whether it’s your inner editor, a friend, or a professional you hire, making sure your website content is edited is what will help you stand out to readers.
  • Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For the most part, these sites are networking platforms where we get to let loose and have fun. It’s also where we get to reveal a little more of who we are to our followers. Again, if you’re posting a meme on one of these platforms as a writer/editor, make sure that words like you’re/your, they’re/their/there, and of/off are used in context, and that those sneaky apostrophes are in the right places. Mistakes slip in (I will admit that I’m slightly OTT about deleting posts if I can’t edit them to correct a typo – judge away; I do), but if you’ve downloaded a meme to share, run a quick check for errors in spelling. As a writer and editor, nothing irritates me more than a brilliant meme that’s ruined by a simple spelling error. I won’t share it. I won’t retweet it. I won’t like it.
  • Blog Posts. I’m a little bit more lenient here. It’s super easy to miss errors as you type up a post in a hurry in order to keep up with that hectic blogging schedule, and I have a ton of respect for people who succeed in regularly posting on their blogs. I barely manage to come up with posts according to the weekly schedule I’ve set myself, and you can just forget about it going out at a certain time. When I post it, you know I’ve generally just finished writing it. I’m not a planner, people! Still, it’s a blog. It has an edit function. If you spot a typo after you’ve hit “publish” please, my inner editor is begging you, please go and fix it! ESPECIALLY if you’re a writer/editor posting something about either of those topics.

Am I too much of a perfectionist? Yes! I’m trying to make this my career, dammit, and if I’m being a judgmental ass, it’s because I care about not twitching and those last two points make me twitchy. Very twitchy.

Twitchy

Disclaimer: I have mentioned before that I hold myself to extremely high standards, probably too much so. The tips above should be read with a pinch of salt, and recognition of the fact that I am aware that not everyone is as picky (or twitchy) as me. Nor do I expect you to be. I need people who aren’t to balance me out and remind me that the world does not revolve around correct spelling and grammar. Like these lovely people:

deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are

 

What do you think? IS it important to edit the sites I mentioned? Did I skip anything that you’ve discovered that you feel could use editing? Are you twitchy, or can you happily ignore mistakes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrible Bloggers – Getting a bit personal here.

Fact: I am a terrible blogger.

Also fact: I have to be.

Allow me to explain in wordier words.

Non-terrible bloggers do the following:

  • Regularly publish interesting and diverse posts.
  • Read other people’s blogs.
  • Follow other people’s blogs.
  • Like and comment on other people’s blogs.

And we love, respect and admire them for it. (That’s actually true, not sarcasm or other forms of me trying to be witty.)

I have a lot of respect for people who can grow their blogs to the level of sheer epicness that I would love to get to, but have realised I probably never will.

The truth is, being a good blogger takes resources. It takes time, effort and motivation to create posts that appeal to others, and then to follow up with comments and blogs that you follow in turn.

I admit I love writing. I love blogging what I write. I love reading other people’s awesome blogs and alternately envying and admiring their design skills/savvy wit/brilliant topics.

I don’t love the obligations implied by having/following a blog. Posts mostly happen because I force myself to sit down at the desk and after spending a few minutes several hours procrastinating, finally manage to get down to the reason I opened my laptop in the first place. (I now have a clean house, but zero blog credits.)

After several existential crises took place in my reality this year, I’ve decided that due to the fact that I don’t social media very well, I am implementing the following changes to my vision for Chasing Dreams Publishing:

  • Focus on the writing (this includes blog posts which interest me and – hopefully – you.)
  • Focus on the editing.
  • Focus on building healthy working relationships with people who enjoy and are better at stuff like cover design, marketing, social media etc than I am.

With that in mind, I have set up a blogging schedule* for myself, which runs as follows:

  • Monday Writing Prompt – This is open to all writers to submit their stories on their own blogs or in the comments, and link back to it. Winning stories are announced the following week and get bragging rights.
  • Tuesday Editing Tips – I love editing. My own work, other people’s, it just works for me. But self-editing is essential and Tuesdays are all about tips to make that process just a little bit kinder to writers who don’t love it quite as much as I do.
  • Wednesday Poetry – This may change to some other random day. See the above section about procrastination. I’m exploring the world of formal poetry because I can.
  • Rest of the week – Whatever strikes my fancy because I’m so NOT a planner. (Although having a schedule may suggest otherwise, do not believe it!)

That being said:

  • Comments make my day!
  • Followers even more so.
  • “Likes” give me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I am sorry that I often deliberately do not return the favour. Hence why I am a terrible blogger. I depleted my internal resources earlier this year, and now I’m carefully guarding the little I got back to focus on what’s important to me – making Chasing Dreams a success in the long term. I recognise that fellow bloggers play a huge role in making that happen, and although I do try to reply to comments and pop over to your site to comment in return (I know how much it sucks when your comments are ignored), please recognise that at this point in time, I simply cannot create more commitments for myself.

In my perfectionist mind, following a blog implies a commitment on my part to read their posts, like and/or comment on them**. I am unable to devote any of my resources to doing that with blogs that do not, in some way, add value to my life.

Please don’t take it as a reflection on your blog or how you choose to follow/not follow mine. Hopefully, as I create fresh resources for myself, this will change. If it doesn’t, that’s just me, and I won’t apologise for it. (Heads up, it’s probably not going to change – but I don’t like to put myself in a box.)

I hope that you’ll join me on my blog, but if you don’t, that’s also cool. Maybe we’ll bump into each other on the blogosphere.

*Although I call it a blogging schedule and will try to stick to it, I’m not guaranteeing anything because planning = commitment = obligations = resources I may not have = ugh.

** This is probably not true, but I did say it was in my mind, and we should all just accept that my mind is full of strange stuffs.

How do you manage your resources when it comes to social media and blogging? Share your tips and tricks so I can learn some of that! 

The Completely Awesome Writer’s To-Do List – Free Download

I don’t know about you guys, but I love lists. And spreadsheets. And planning stuff. Anything to semi-legitimately avoid actually writing/editing. Cos that stuff’s HARD!

So, in honour of the impending Plotober, the 31 days that were previously known as October, before the phenomenon that is NaNoWriMo overtook us, I present to you:

The Completely Awesome Writer’s To-Do List*

*I am not responsible for any sort of torture, angst, creative blocks or psychotic plot bunnies this list may cause in your life. 

That being said, please feel free to share, copy, alter or otherwise whatever takes your fancy. Just please remember to link back or give Chasing Dreams credit if you do share it or use it as inspiration for your own awesome to-do list. Thanks and enjoy!

Editing Tips Tuesday – Editing while writing and how not to.

One of the biggest mistakes authors make is to edit as they write. You know the story – you sit down to write, and as you’re typing, your finger keeps hitting that backspace key so you can replace letters, words and even entire sentences!

While this may work for some people, it can also have the resultant effect of ensuring that your story never reaches 

The End

Editing while writing generally kills the creative process but there are ways around it.

  • Decide on a word count goal and write without stopping until you’ve reached it. Similar to a word sprint, this method allows you to set goals that should allow you to satisfy both your writer and editor. Set manageable goals – I would recommend sticking to 100 words as a maximum unless your inner editor is properly under your control. This prevents it mutating into a salivating monster that won’t let you get a single word out without triple-checking the etymology and usage before allowing you to move onto the next one. Think I’m joking? I have one word for you – illuminous. It has a long and not-so-illustrious history.

 

  • Write longhand. The “old-fashioned” method doesn’t allow for endless hours of editing, unless you want an illegible mess scrawled across your page. Invest in a notebook and a good-quality pen, and rediscover the joys of writing by hand. Eventually, you’ll have to transfer it to a computer, and that’s the perfect time to utilise your inner demon editor properly.Notebook
  • Cover your screen. If you can’t see it, you can’t criticise it. If you can’t criticise it, you can’t edit it. Voilà! Problem solved. Until you end up throwing a tantrum and decide never to cover your screen again because the last four pages of writing suck! They don’t, so don’t delete them. That’s just your editor being mean because you were mean first.

 

Share your tips for preventing editing while writing. What works for you, what have you tried and does your inner demon editor play fair or not?

Why Writers Should Never Have a Cat – EVER!*

I have come to the conclusion that cats are anti-writing terrorists. Any animal, really, but cats in particular are the elite branch of anti-writists^. Highly trained saboteurs in the art of ensuring that books will never be written. Ever.

^This is absolutely a word. Ask your cat!

Why do I say this?

Shh… hang on. I’ll be right back.

Sorry about that, I had to… er… feed my cats.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Explaining why cats are anti-writists. Let’s start with their general characteristics, shall we?

  • They’re soft. Oh, so soft. And cuddly. Their fur inspires images of cuddles, warm beds and contented sighs. If you see it, you have to touch it. DO NOT TOUCH IT! It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop.
  • They purr. No one is exactly sure how they do it, but that low, soothing rumble is guaranteed to make you forget what you were supposed to be doing.
  • They’re cute and entertaining. Have you ever seen a cat playing with nothing but air? No? GOOD! Pray you never do, because you will instantly stop being productive in an effort to keep them, and thereby yourself, amused.
  • They’re occasionally alarming. Their status as highly efficient predators means that this:

mouse

gets rescued from under the bathroom mat at two in the morning and hidden in the cupboard until it can be released safely when daylight arrives.

As you can see, this is a rather unnerving list of distracting qualifications. Now to examine their specially trained skills designed to prevent writing from ever taking place.

  • Cats are specially adapted to know when you’re trying to write. If you’re writing on a device that requires a keyboard and screen, you’ll have to remove the cat before you can even start. And every two minutes thereafter as they try to return to your keyboard their bed.aya-on-keyboard

If you’re writing with pen and paper, good luck convincing the cat that your writing implements are not a toy. Specifically, their toy. Better luck convincing yourself of that as well.

  • Which brings up the fact that cats are sneaky. Oh, so sneaky. They are experts in mind control. So much so, that they have you convinced that it’s amusing and adorable when they type owebolngsonnalondOP all over your document, or you end up with this: cat-scribblebecause “it was just so funny watching her play with the pen!”
  • They are strategic nappers. This means that instead of choosing an out-of-sight spot to curl up in, they deliberately place themselves in your line of sight. They then proceed to up the cuteness level to unbearable, so that your procrastinating tendencies insist that you need… to… stroke… it! Not once, or twice, or even later. Oh no. Every. Thirty. Seconds. To make it even worse, when you do touch them, they turn on the ultimate weapon – the PURR.
  • The PURR. This weapon of mass-productivity-destruction actually stands for Purposefully Undermining Relative Resourcefulness. Kiss your productivity goodbye, my friend, because as soon as your cat switches the PURR on, it’s gone. Add the belly-just-begging-for-a-rub stretch**: aya

and you may as well give up any intention to get anything at all done.

As if those capabilities weren’t enough, I have recently realised that they have been teaching dogs to be just as effective anti-writists. Behold:

ali

 

*Obviously, writers should actually have ALL the cats! Because they understand us. Why else?

**Aya, a rescue cat (and one of four), was pulled out of my car engine. As you can see from the photo, she is proudly showing off her shaved belly from having been spayed.

***

Have some of your own stories to tell about pets you’ve owned? Share them in the comments!