Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Small Changes

Things are looking a little bit different around here. Just a little. New domain, new header, new photo of my pasty face. I've even updated my 'about' page, although I'm sure I'm the only person who has ever read it. If I've done everything properly these changes shouldn't have been too disruptive. Old links should still work. If you were following me on Bloglovin' before, you should be still.

I'm a little sad to see stasialikescakes go but it feels like time (and it's sticking around on my Instagram because, well, I just don't want to change it there, brand consistency be damned). I have a short story coming out in an anthology this year (more about this soon!) and it feels like time to make things a little more professional around here. Just a little bit. I'm easily freaked out by formality to be honest, so we'll try to keep that at a minimum.

Last year I said I wanted to be fearless in 2017. I don't know if I quite managed that all the time but I did submit a lot of stories last year, some of them good, some of them less so, and I am going to be published because of that. Every time I thought about giving up, chickening out, closing the Pages document and forgetting a deadline ever existed because the story wasn't perfect, I remembered that I had vowed to be fearless and I sent it anyway. So I'm not going to pick a new word of the year for 2018. I'm going to stick with 'fearless'. It's not just some big change I made in 2017 and don't need to worry about anymore, it's a small change I make every time I agree to something I might have been too frightened to before, every time I send an email that terrifies me. And small changes are sometimes the ones that make the biggest differences.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Writing My Novel: Plotting, Finally

So I wrote the first draft of this novel in November 2015. It's now October two years later and finally, finally, I have an outline. I figured it was time. Way past time.

You may recall that I already have one and a half drafts of this story, and I've been thinking about it for over two years, so it's not like I was starting from scratch without a single idea. But I knew there were things that needed changing and I knew I needed a real outline before I started on the next draft. The last thing I want is another meandering draft with terrible pacing and a flat story arc. So, as I often do, I turned to my books.

I marked pages with sticky tabs and wrote notes like I was back at uni working on an essay. These books did get me thinking more about how plot and structure work within a story but I was still struggling to actually write an outline. I just couldn't figure out the actual events that needed to happen in my story and none of these books could help me with that.

If you read my last writing post you'll know that I ended up spending a while working on other things anyway, leaving these books on the side of my desk for months, intending to get back to them soon and finish that outline. Because, of course, I also had pages and pages of attempted starts to outlines, aborted efforts at figuring out what the heck needed to happen to these characters. I tried the snowflake method, and the one-page method, and any other methods I could find online that promised to help me figure out those story events. None of them worked.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I remembered an old youtube video that I had started to use for another story years before. I remembered at the time thinking this method made a lot of sense, but it hadn't quite fit the story I was working on. Maybe it would fit this one?

It worked like a dream. This method breaks down the standard three act structure into 9 blocks and 27 chapters. Or, as I used it, 27 plot points. I wrote a skeletal outline using the 27 points in this video (they didn't all fit perfectly but close enough) then I added some muscle. I wrote a more detailed outline, including those points, but also including every single other thing that needs to happen to link those points together. That outline is currently 2,378 words long and I'm sure it will keep growing. Finally, I wrote a chapter outline: just one sentence summing up the main event of each chapter, to keep me on track while I write.

Using the method in this video, and then embellishing on the results in more detail, helped me come up with so many great new ideas for this story. I've worked out plot holes, tightened things up, wound things together. In short, all the things I wanted to do when I first tried to write that second draft.

Maybe if I had done an outline to begin with my first two drafts wouldn't have been such disasters, but I doubt it. I needed those 100,000 useless words to get to know the story and the characters. The plot I had in mind two years ago and the one I'm about to start writing now are so vastly different and this one is so much better! Now I can write the good stuff.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Writing My Novel: Not Writing My Novel

My last post was all about my Abandoned Second Draft but today, as hinted at last time, I'm going to talk about what I've been doing since then. Namely, not writing my novel.

NaNoWriMo finished last year and December disappeared in a glittering puff of gingerbread scented smoke. When January came around I decided to spend the first two months of the year writing, editing, and submitting short stories to competitions, websites, and literary magazines. I worked solidly, sent off my submissions, and thought I would get straight back to the real second draft of my novel. But it turns out I'm not great at waiting for responses, and submitting so many stories so close together? That just meant I was stressing out about the responses to all of them all at once. Then the rejections started to come and the shortlists I wasn't on started to be announced. 

I tried to work on my novel outline but I was too distracted. I tried to start a new draft but got barely 2,000 words in before the last of the stories I had sent out in those first two months was officially turned down. I briefly decided to quit writing forever. It didn't stick but it did cause me to take a break from writing for a few weeks.

Eventually I got up the courage to submit more stories. Finally, it paid off.

I won't say much, mostly because I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say but also because I don't want to jinx it, but one of my short stories was accepted. One of my short stories is going to be published.

The thing I probably shouldn't admit but will anyway is that I spent less time on this story than any of the others I wrote this year. Oh, I spent about two months thinking about it, making a start and then deleting everything, over and over, but I wrote and edited the actual thing in less than a week. I wrote the way I used to write my university assignments: in a flurry of stress and excitement and 'why did I do this to myself??'

Maybe it's not the best way of working but the result is a story that feels more 'me' than anything I've written in a long time. Unlike the stories I wrote at the beginning of the year, I still like this one when I read it back. That was a stressful week but it made me realise that I had been trying too hard before, to write the kind of stories I thought editors wanted, to make the stories more like the ones I'd seen from other writers, to make my writing sound more "literary". This story, unlike the others, sounds like me, because I didn't have time for anything else, and that's the story someone wanted.

Knowing that, now I'm ready to get back to writing my novel.


Friday, 11 August 2017

Writing My Novel: The Abandoned Second Draft

In my last Writing My Novel post (which went up almost five months ago. What the hell???) I talked about writing my first draft during NaNoWriMo in 2015. Today we're moving onto my second draft. Or, what was supposed to be my second draft anyway. Let me explain.

I somehow managed to let a whole year slip past after the first draft (I'm very good at this. Hence it being five freaking months since my last Writing post!) before finally tackling a second draft during NaNoWriMo 2016. It would be fine, I thought. I already had my, admittedly lack-luster, first draft and I just needed to add things in, tighten things up, tie everything together. Make it better. If I could win NaNoWriMo with the same story a year before with nothing to start from, I could win it again with that first draft behind me.

And I did! Just. I mean, I hit 50,000 words. Just. Remember my graph from last time? How I was often a little bit behind the daily word target but still managed to write at least a little bit every day?

Not quite so this time round.

I turned 25 on the 4th November and spent a few days celebrating so that's why that first week was such a disaster but after that? I have no excuses. Through sheer, frenzied determination on those last three days I hit my 50,000 word goal but that only took me to about half way through the story. I thought that I would keep going over December and January, probably get to about 100,000 words and then spend a few months cutting 20,000 of those in the next draft.

Except I started to realise that something wasn't right with the story. Well, there were a lot of things that weren't right, but I was in the shower one day, thinking about the ending and how I would get there, when it hit me. A pretty major plot point needed to be changed. I knew, from the second I thought of it that it would require starting again. I knew if I changed this one thing then it would change everything else. Events, characters, relationships, and not just in this novel but in the sequels I've half thought of too! So much of this story would have to be started over again. God, it was going to be a lot of work. Too much work! But I also knew that it was the right call and that it would make the story so much better. It would also make finishing this draft absolutely pointless.

I emailed a friend about it. I told her what I already had and what I would need to change. I told her how changing this one thing would have a ripple effect on everything else. I asked her what she thought I should do. She agreed with me. Change it. It'll be stronger.

At least I realised it needed to be changed now and not half way through Book 2.

So I never finished this draft. There are certain things in it that I'll use in the next draft but this one is getting demoted. No longer Draft 2.0, now Draft 1.5. Nothing is wasted, everything is material, blah blah blah. It stings a little to know that I have to start over again. Again. But sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses. This draft? A necessary loss.

Of course, now it's August 2017 and I still haven't started the New and Improved Second Draft, but I'll tell you more about that next time.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Read Women Month 2017 Wrap Up

So... Read Women Month didn't quite go to plan here, did it? I had all these blog post ideas and then they just... didn't happen... (enough ellipses? Probably...) I didn't even manage to keep to my TBR but look, I got busy! I spent basically the entire month staring at Pages documents. You'll hear more about that in a post soon but for now let's talk about the books I did manage to read during Read Women Month.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

I've been eagerly awaiting this book ever since I read and loved the first two in the series during last year's Read Women Month. Although, for me, this instalment didn't quite live up to the first two, it was wonderful to spend a little more time with Lara Jean, and as endings go this was a pretty satisfying one.


The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

I got a bit down early on in the month, mostly due to the awful things that just kept coming on the news, and decided TBR be damned I needed something comforting and familiar to read. I wanted something that I knew would definitely make me smile so headed straight for this old favourite. And yes, it still makes me laugh just as much as it always has. And yes, I still love Micheal Moscovitz.


The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke

As with all the short story collections I've read, there were stories in here that I really enjoyed and some that I didn't enjoy so much. Many of the stories were written in a very different style from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell*, but, of course, still managed to maintain the magic of that world, so I'll forgive Susanna Clarke the odd, seemingly pointless story.

*There were a lot less footnotes.**
**See what I did there?


The Beautifull Cassandra by Jane Austen

Honestly, I mostly read this one because I wanted something quick so that I would have more than three books to show for the month... This is a (very) little collection of things that Jane Austen wrote long before her novels, so they're a little disjointed and varied, but her excellent humour is present throughout. I wouldn't recommend it for a first attempt at reading Austen but certainly something fun to pick up after you've read her books, to see how her writing started out.



Thursday, 1 June 2017

May Reading Wrap Up + Read Women Month 2017 TBR

Well May is over and we're just all going to pretend that it isn't sort of terrifying that we're nearly half way through 2017 already because May being over means it's June and it being June means it is officially Read Women Month!!!

I've decided to bundle my May wrap up and RWM TBR into one post today because I didn't actually read very much in May and it just so happens that I've accidentally done two Read Women Months in a row! Never mind, ey?

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist was a tricky one. It had its good points for sure but on the whole I really wasn't impressed. If you want to know more of my thoughts I did a full review on Blogger's Bookshelf this month.


When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi on the other hand was out and out wonderful. I loved it completely and I highly recommend it if you're looking for a cute, summery romance read. I also reviewed this one on Blogger's Bookshelf if you want to know more about why I thought it was so great.


I Am Not Esther by Fleur Beale 

I was actually sent I Am Not Esther as part of a traveling novel project! When I first looked at it I wasn't totally sure if it was going to be my kind of thing but I actually really enjoyed it and ended up reading the whole thing in a day. It's a story about a girl who is abandoned by her mother with incredibly religious relatives and it handles some pretty big issues in ways that felt really appropriately digestible for its intended age group. Also, Kirby (Not Esther) is a really great protagonist and I loved reading about her.


If you're interested in the book and want to take part in the project then you can find out more here and let me know if you want to be the person I send it to! (To be completely honest I would love for someone who lives in Europe to volunteer because of postage costs but I do have a couple of friends who are going to America in a few weeks and I can probably get them to post it for me when they get there if you live in the States. Or I can just suck it up and pay the postage. Let me know!)

Now onto my TBR for this year's Read Women Month! I'm erring on the side of caution with this TBR and going for a realistic goal. I'm already half way through Always and Forever, Lara Jean (which so far is absolutely living up to the adorableness of the first two books) and I don't think it will take me too much longer to finish. 

Next I've chosen The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is a collection of short stories set in the same world as Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a novel I read last year and really enjoyed.

Then I've chosen The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which I am sure you will all have heard of because I seem to be one of the last people on the internet who hasn't read it yet and I am very much looking forward to rectifying that!

And finally The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik, which is the sequel to Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, which I actually read and reviewed for Read Women Month last year.

So that's my TBR! As always, I reserve the right to change it around as I see fit, but right now I'm very excited about all of these books and for this month in general! I'm especially excited about the #ReadWomenMonth instagram challenge, which has already had its first posts! Remember to let me know if you're joining in!


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Read Women Month 2017 Instagram Challenge

Read Women Month is fast approaching and in just one week we'll be embarking on a whole month of celebrating women writers! (If you've never heard of Read Women Month then you can check out this year's announcement post right here.)

This year I've decided to do something a little different to previous years and make a #ReadWomenMonth Instagram challenge! I've explained each of the prompts a little bit below but really you can interpret all of them however you like and if there are some you don't fancy or only one or two that you do, that's fine too. Just so long as all the books you share are written by women you'll be in the spirit of the thing!

The Prompts
1. TBR - Show me the books you plan to read for Read Women Month!
2. Fave female character - Who's your favourite female character in a book written by a woman?
3. Last read - What's the last book you read that was written by a woman?
4. Childhood fave - Your favourite book from your childhood, you guessed it, written by a woman.
5. Pink books - I'm going to stop adding 'written by a woman' now and just assume you've got the gist of this challenge. Show me some pink books!
6. Fave classic - Your favourite female penned classic.
7. Made you laugh - A book that made you laugh... most of these are quite self explanatory, aren't they?
8. Made you cry - I mean...
9. Fave female friendship - Your favourite fictional lady friends!
10. Underrated read - A book you don't think gets enough love.
11. Cover love - Show me the most beautiful book cover you can find.
12. Non-fiction - Recommend a non-fiction favourite.
13. Newest purchase - What was the last book you bought by a female author?
14. Current read - What book are you reading right now?
15. Pastel books - Show me some pastel books! I like colour prompts.
16. Shortest read - The shortest book you've got by a female author...
17. Longest read - And the longest.
18. Series - Show off your favourite series.
19. Bookish rainbow - Another colour one. Interpret this however you like!
20. Graphic/illustrated - Recommend a graphic novel or illustrated book.
21. Fave female villain - Who's your favourite lady bad guy?
22. Short stories - Got a short story/collection by a female writer you're particularly fond of? Today's the day to show it off!
23. Still thinking about - What's a book you read recently that you still can't stop thinking about?
24. Summer read - Recommend a book perfect for the summer months
25. Flowers - Interpret this however you want. A book with flowers on the cover? A flower made out of books? Books in your local garden centre? Whatever you choose.
26. Fave female author - Who is your all time favourite lady writer?
27. Around the world - Show me books by women from all around the globe!
28. Most excited to read - What's the next book by a woman on your TBR?
29. A book and a song - Is there a song or particular lyric that reminds you of a book? Bonus points if the song is also by a woman but this isn't Listen Women Month... mostly because that would be a terrible name.
30. Wrap up - Show me all the great books written by women that you read this month!

Let me know if you'll be taking part and remember to use #ReadWomenMonth on Instagram so I can find your posts!