This post is based on five separate YouTube ‘tag’ games (which operate in the same way as a tag game would work on a playground at school, where one person is nominated as ‘it’ or ‘on’, then they tag someone else who becomes ‘it’ or ‘on’ etc). A predetermined set of questions about writing and being a writer are answered by all players when they are tagged in each game. While most replies will inevitably be on YouTube, where the game began, I prefer to keep my internet presence on a text-only basis, at least for the time being, so I have answered the questions here.
1. Where’s your favorite place to write?
I like to write absolutely anywhere quiet. I’ve written poems, full articles, short stories and chapters of my work in progress while sat in bed when I’ve woken up early in the morning. I tend to get a lot done in my downtime at work (which is a lot, because I work as an overnight security guard) and basically in any other quiet space I can find. I can also do bits of writing at other times and in other circumstances, like while travelling on a busy bus, but I tend to really only be able to make notes and outline the work I intend to do later if there any distractions or a lot of noise.
2. Coffee or tea?
Energy drink. I drink far too much of the stuff anyway, but writing is one of the many excuses I give myself to continue drinking it. Occasionally I have found that having an alcoholic drink or two can help me get into a really productive stint, but only on rare occasions, in moderation and only while writing fiction. Hopefully I will be able to update this at some point soon and change my answer to a healthier one, like fruit juice or just a plain glass of water.
3. Favorite book of all time?
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is my absolute favourite novel. I prefer both the protagonist (Will Graham) and antagonist (Francis Dolarhyde) to their counterparts in the more successful sequel, The Silence Of The Lambs and find the story more engaging. Obviously both have the distinct advantage of featuring one of my favourite fictional characters of all time (Hannibal Lecter) and they were the first thrillers that I read in my teens. I had previously read some YA crime stories and every Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (with Holmes being another of my favourite fictional characters of all time), but Red Dragon was the first actual thriller that I read.
4. NaNoWriMo: Yes or No?
I have never actually participated in a NaNoWriMo, nor do I think it would be particularly practical or productive for me, personally. Is it a good thing to get people going and motivate them? Undoubtedly. Should it be supported and encouraged? Definitely. Does it work for a lot of people? Apparently it does, which is great. The whole NaNoWriMo idea is a fantastic one and I fully support anything that helps writers to actually write. Even though I have not done it myself, I have heard great things about it, even from people who have not completed a book but learned from the experience. I may change my mind about it in the future and decide to give it a try and I would definitely encourage anyone to try it who feels that the structure and goal setting involved would benefit them.
5. Genre you would write if you had no restrictions?
I don’t currently have any restrictions on what I produce and hopefully that won’t change. Just as I enjoy reading a variety of genres, I also enjoy writing in a variety of genres. If anything, I hope to expand my scope rather than consider narrowing it to one specific genre, although my focus at the moment is primarily on writing poetry and horror.
6. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I would probably just choose telekinesis, so that I could do things without having to get out of bed.
7. Favorite author?
Stephen King. While I tend to prefer crime thrillers as a genre, I have probably read more of King’s work than any other author and I absolutely love his ability to create and build characters.
My new favourite writer is Max Porter – the author of ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers’ and ‘Lanny’. I enjoyed both books so much that I have recommended them to everyone I know and I will buy whatever he writes next without even reading the blurb. His work is really different and takes a bit of getting used to (in terms of the style), but it is really worth it and definitely among the best books I’ve ever read.
8. What kind of music do you listen to when you write?
I tend to work best without music, but if I do listen to anything it tends to be classical or instrumental music so that I don’t get distracted by lyrics.
9. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I am actually giving this question serious consideration at the moment, because me and my wife would like to relocate in the next few years. We are currently considering The Netherlands, Malta and Canada, although we will also be scouting several other options in the next couple of years. At present, we are leaning towards Haarlem in The Netherlands, but are only in the early stages of planning and researching, so that may change.
10. What do you do when you get writer’s block?
I write something else. Whether it be an article, a short story or a poem, I find that moving on to another project can allow my subconscious to work out any problems I may be having. I can then come back to the piece with renewed enthusiasm and fresh ideas.
The Fearless Writer Tag:
1. Lies. What is the biggest Fallacy you’re telling yourself with writing/being a writer?
Hopefully none. I think I have a realistic view of how hard it is to make a career from writing and of the writing process etc. I know that writing is far from easy and I like to think that I’m realistic about my capabilities as a writer. I certainly don’t think I was realistic about it when I was younger, but I am far less idealistic and arrogant than I was in my youth.
2. Starting New. Does the first draft scare you or motivate you?
This usually depends on the size of the project and how it comes about. For example, to sit down at a blank page when I know I’m about to start a novel is really daunting, but if I’m writing an article, poem or short story, then I usually start by being inspired or motivated to write one thing, then let it grow somewhat organically before going back and redrafting/editing.
3. Roadblock. What’s your number one obstacle stopping you from writing?
Self-doubt and Depression. Unfortunately, like most aspiring writers, I suffer greatly from imposter syndrome and low self esteem when it comes to my skills as a writer. I realise that this is perfectly normal and that I have evidence to the contrary, having proven myself to be proficient enough to be published in a print magazine, on several websites and having been paid for freelance work. Regardless of those accomplishments, overcoming self-doubt about my skill as a writer is always a huge challenge. I also suffer from Depression, which not only demotivates, but can make it more difficult to write emotional material because my own emotional state is in such flux or else completely nullified.
4. Reflect. How can you overcome the obstacle?
The way to deal with both is to keep writing. Bad writing can always be fixed and edited, but to allow self-doubt or Depression to stop the writing process altogether is the most destructive thing to do. Writing is also therapeutic, as is any creative work, so to allow the conditions to stop the work would only result in a severe downward spiral. I recently took a break from writing and found it to be a mistake, because my mood and general mental health deteriorated and the intended length of the break increased by about tenfold before I was able to break the cycle and start again.
5. Perfection. How can you challenge yourself to get past the perfectionism-procrastination trap?
This is another major problem which I experience on a regular basis, whereby I stop projects to mull over plot problems or character development issues, or just keep re-editing the same section rather than keeping my momentum going. I am trying to build better habits, whereby I try to finish a first draft completely before going back to make edits, but I admit that I fail to do this all too often. As with any other part of honing my writing skills, I am finding that this improves with practice, but I need to do further work to stop myself from doing this.
6. Failure sucks. How can you grow from a failure?
This question seems like it’s just inviting people to answer with cliches and platitudes, but I’m not intelligent enough to come up with anything utterly profound or witty to replace a standard answer, I’m afraid. Failures are just learning experiences. No-one is going to start out as the world’s greatest writer, so with each failure you just have to assess how you can improve for next time, learn the lesson and keep going.
7. Rejection sucks too. How can you grow/learn from rejection?
I’ll be perfectly honest here and admit that I don’t see a difference between this and the previous question. Rejection is a form of failure, just as making a mistake in a published piece is a form of failure, as is not marketing a book to the right audience etc, but my approach to each would be the same. Learn the lessons you can and move on to the next thing. The next project might end up having its own failures, but with each one you learn how to improve for next time.
8. Create Action. How do you keep moving towards your goals?
I keep moving towards my goals by concentrating on what my motivations are for having those goals. Everyone’s motivations are varied and complex and unique, but if you focus on the motivation you had for starting out towards the goals, it will help to keep you focused and will keep you enthused.
9. New Year, New Outlook. If Fear wasn’t holding you back… what would you be doing right now to further your writing dreams?
I would probably be sending work into competitions and trying to get some short fiction or poetry published somewhere other than my own site. This is something that I am actually looking into doing shortly, but haven’t pursued previously.
10. Leap of Faith: What is one thing you plan to do this year even though it scares you?
I will be sending queries to agents and editors and seeking to be published in the coming year, so no doubt that will be a scary and challenging experience.
‘Writer Life’ Tag
1. What do you eat or drink while writing?
My eating habits don’t change when I’m writing. I don’t tend to snack or skip meals or anything like that. I drink far too much energy drink, but I do that when I’m not writing too.
2. What do you listen to while writing?
Classical music or something instrumental if anything at all.
3. What is your biggest writing distraction?
My own annoying mind. As stated above, I think my biggest obstacles in writing are my self-doubt and Depression., but I am also a master procrastinator and can find absolutely any excuse to not do the things I know I should be doing.
4. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while writing?
I lost the only audio file of an interview I had conducted after only transcribing the first few questions. The interview had taken me an hour to conduct and had been full of really interesting answers and anecdotes, but obviously I was only able to provide about a page-and-a-half’s-worth of what should have been an in-depth and fascinating piece.
5. What’s the best thing that ever happened to you while writing?
I have been able to conduct several interviews with really interesting people who I was legitimately a fan of when I was growing up and have met and become friendly with some really great people.
6. Who do you communicate with or not communicate with while writing?
I try not to communicate with anyone while I’m writing, unless I want some feedback on something specific. In that case, I usually ask my wife to read what I’ve done and see what she thinks, or depending what it is, I might get a friend to double check something or give me some feedback. Other than those rare instances, I do not communicate with anyone until I have edited the piece to the best of my ability.
7. What your secret to success and your biggest writing flaw?
I am not successful enough to have a secret to success, but I am determined to keep going regardless of success. Hopefully the fact that I am doing this because I have passion for it will bring rewards in one way or another, but regardless of success and rewards, I don’t foresee a future where I don’t continue to write in some form or another. My biggest writing flaws are my mental health and procrastination, as mentioned above.
8. What inspires you? Or what makes you productive?
Reading and listening to audiobooks of novels and short stories tend to be my main sources of inspiration for writing fiction. I also find inspiration almost everywhere – as all writers do – from life experiences, people I interact with and observe, news stories, TV shows and movies etc. Song lyrics can also be very inspiring, particularly when it comes to writing poetry, although listening to anything with lyrics while I’m actually writing is too distracting.
I find that the best thing for making me productive is feeling particularly inspired, but I am trying to improve my productivity and create regular habits rather than rely on inspiration to strike. I find that doing some research on the craft of writing or watching motivational videos on YouTube can be a good driving force to get some work done, but there is always the danger of getting too drawn into the podcast or playlist and spending all of your writing time procrastinating in “research”. As long as the time is managed efficiently, they can be really helpful.
9. What is one thing you do or other writers do that’s annoying?
Thing I do which is annoying: I annoy myself in a multitude of ways, but when it specifically comes to writing, I guess procrastination is the worst thing I do. It definitely annoys my wife, who has been waiting for three years to find out what happens to some characters I created and have yet to finish the story I was writing for them (it’s a large project, so I’ve been resistant to getting it done because the scope of it is intimidating to me).
Thing other writers do which is annoying: Using the word ‘Pantser’ or ‘Pantsers’ or any other derivative thereof. Please can we just retire this awful colloquialism and refer to people as either ‘gardeners’ or ‘discovery writers’, or basically any other word than that? Hell, make up your own word for all I care.
10. Are you willing to share something you’ve written?
I am more than happy for anyone to read my short stories or poetry. I had previously also shared first drafts from a novel I am writing, but have decided that sharing work before it is ready was not the best idea. In future I will be keeping any works in progress under lock and key until they are fit for consumption.
W – where- where do you do your best writing?
Anywhere quiet, but ideally somewhere with a computer. I can work on my phone, but it’s not ideal and I can type faster on an actual keyboard.
R – rituals- do you have any rituals you have to do when you want to write?
No. I am not a superstitious person or too much of a creature of habit in that way. I find that as long as I have a computer and quiet, I am able to write. I would hate to develop any kind of ritual around writing, because I already find it too easy to make excuses to myself for not writing as much as I know I should, so having a ritual of any kind would mean any time I could not undertake the ritual, whatever it may be, I would easily talk myself out of getting anything done.
I – irritate- what irritates you most when you struggle with writing?
It’s the struggle itself that irritates me. Whether it be obsessing over small details, trying to fix major problems in a draft or just working out a minor plot point, I always feel like I should be able to fix the problem easily and (holding myself to a blatantly impossible standard) that I should not be having the problem to begin with. Especially in terms of writing fiction, I tend to feel that I should instinctively know what should come next in a story or how a character would believably react to a situation etc, but as anyone who has ever written a story will tell you, it’s just not always as easy as that. I tend to give myself a hard time over any issues that might arise in my writing, so I’m quite easily irritated by any kind of struggle.
T – talent- what aspect of writing do you feel you’re most talented at?
I think that the thing I’m most talented at is creating sympathetic or relatable characters, even when they have outlandish or unrelatable traits. I might be wrong about that and I’m sure there will be people who might even say that is the area that I need to work on the most. I don’t necessarily feel qualified to say what I do best in the fiction I write because different readers respond to different aspects of writing, so I try to be fairly well-rounded and concentrate on the actual telling of the story rather than the individual components.
E – essential- what part of writing is absolutely essential to who you are?
Writing itself – as a whole – is essential to who I am. There is no part of it that is more integral to me than any other and no medium or style that I’ve written in that I don’t get joy from. Even writing an article about something I have no interest in and have to research extensively is better than any real job I have ever had and more fulfilling than any other hobby I have ever enjoyed. Even back when barely anyone apart from myself would read anything I wrote, I would still do it for the joy of it. At times in my life where I wasn’t writing, I was much less happy and lacked any sense of direction for my life.
R – reflections- what is something that you’ve written that is a reflection of something that’s happened to you in your life?
Almost everything I write is a reflection of experiences, people, situations and conflicts I have experienced in some form or another. Obviously in the majority of the fiction I write, these are couched in between massive leaps of imagination and mixed inspiration from other sources, so they rarely resemble the original reality by the time they manifest as characters and stories. Even so, I often have to use my own experience to determine how characters will react to situations or to explore deep emotions etc. The most autobiographical writing I have done is probably my poetry, which was especially based on myself and my own experiences when I was younger, although my subject matter has diversified and use of character voice etc has increased more recently.
‘A Writer’s Life For Me’ Tag:
What kind of writer are you?
I am a journalist, horror/crime thriller fiction writer and poet. So, an eclectic one. My main focus is on poetry and fiction, and my previous freelancing and journalism ventures have been put on the backburner for the moment.
When did you start writing and what made you want to try it?
I have always written as a hobby, but started to pursue it more seriously just before my 30th birthday at the encouragement of a friend of mine. I can’t give a single answer as to what made me want to become a writer, but I have always been drawn to storytelling and anything to do with using words.
What inspires your stories?
Other stories, real life, research, travel and new experiences of any kind.
What themes do you explore in your writing?
I like to think that that I explore all sorts of themes, such as justice, hope and human experience, but I definitely lean more towards the darker side of emotions and human nature. Much of my work is fairly dark and concentrates on themes such as loss, mental health, grief, betrayal, death and isolation. I imagine this is partly a damning insight into my own character and psyche, but also my influences in writing are mainly on the darker side of poetry and fiction, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Thomas Harris, HP Lovecraft etc.
Are you a plotter, pantser or a plantser?
Eww. Please do away with all of this terminology. Plotter is okay, but none of the rest of this should be vernacular which is actively used by people who write for a living… But my own specific linguistic preferences aside, I think that everyone is somewhere on a scale between an architct and a gardener, or between plotter and discovery writer. I don’t think anyone can ever be completely one or the other, but I am far closer to the discovery writer side of this spectrum.
Where are you on your writing journey?
Still pretty close to the start. I procrastinated a lot in the first few years of pursuing writing, partially out of self-doubt, but also due to a lack of focus. Although I still intend to remain diverse in my output, I am much more focused in terms of how I use my time to write and how much time I dedicate to actually getting words on the page. I have also done a lot of work to research the craft of writing and am adapting my approach and habits to ensure that I continue to produce work at a much more consistent pace.
Have you ever entered any writing contests and have you won any?
Not as yet, although I am currently looking into this.
Who are your writing heroes?
Stephen King, because of the volume he writes as well as the work itself. Thomas Harris because he wrote my favourite novel of all time (Red Dragon). Neil Gaiman, because of the high standard of his work and because he has been so diverse in the work he has produced. Lastly, I would have to add Max Porter, whose books have really made an impression on me and really stand out as unique.
Have you been to a writing conference?
No. Although I know I would mainly be in the company of other introverts, the thought of something like this still terrifies me. Hopefully I will be able to overcome this and attend one at some point in the future as I know that they can be extremely helpful in building an author’s career.
What are your top three writing tips?
Write everything in a way that you would want to read it, whether that be enjoyable or informative or hilarious or terrifying.
Read and write as much as possible.
Don’t do anything for free that feels like work.