Author Stats of an Amateur Writer

#Authorstats is a wonderful hashtag I discovered the other day – published writers are sharing the statistics of just how many years it took them to succeed. All of the garbage books they had to write, all of the rejections they conquered, every step of the arduous journey which kills off so many in the first couple of steps.

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This graph represents the number of stock photos I look at over time

When you start writing it’s not finding the time to sit down and get words on paper, it’s not learning some of the finer details of grammar, and it certainly isn’t thinking of ideas. The single hardest thing an amateur writer has to contend with is the malicious voice that lives within all of us:

You don’t know how to write. Delete the whole thing and start over. In fact, don’t bother. Your writing has no message. Your characters are pale imitations. Your dialogue doesn’t sound authentic. Have you even formatted it properly? Is any of it even formatted properly? Learn how to do that, and all the other stuff you’re not sure of. Learn all of it perfectly before you write another word. You’re going to embarrass yourself otherwise.

For me, that voice froze me solid for almost five years. I hear it every day when I’m at work in my office. It’s often the first thing I hear when I wake up, and after a bad day, it’s the last thing I hear before I sleep.

Today, I’m going to give you my author stats. Unlike the great inspirations, my story doesn’t come with a happy ending, because spoilers, I’m not a published writer. It’s not wasted time though, the last eighteen years have helped me find my formula, not for success, but for perseverance.

If you make it to the end, I’ll even share it with you.

2000 – I’m eight years old, and I’m in English class. The teacher got us to write a story. The first constructive feedback about my writing I remember: Have you ever thought about writing a story without guns or knives? I was also chastised for drawing periods much, much larger than they needed to be. Intellectual snobs.

2001 – I write a rap, not featuring any guns or knives. The teacher loves it, so much, in fact, they tell me they’re going to put it on the school website. I don’t have the internet, but I’m given a printed copy, and to my horror, I see some the words have been changed to help the piece flow better. I asked them to change it back, but I lose my first editing argument.

2003 – My sister gets a computer for Christmas. It very expensive, and she’s not really sure how to set it up or what to do with it, and bless them, neither are my parents. Eventually, I find some sort of word processor on the thing and I’d use it to write. One day my dad discovers a poem I’d written about marching soldiers. He tells me it’s bloody good, and him saying that sure made me feel bloody good.

2004 – One of my friends gives me a floppy disc with a story he’d written. I find this act of transfer amazing, and I’m quick to reciprocate, for a brief time we start swapping stories.

fire

We were just like cowboys around a campfire, only with floppy disks and without the constant fear of dysentery

2005 – My parents enter the 21st century and finally get the internet. Like any teenage boy with his first access to the web, you’ve guessed it, I engross myself in reading and writing Harry Potter fanfiction.

2007 – I move on from fan fiction and, amazingly, begin an even more embarrassing hobby, the world of fantasy wrestling leagues, or e-feds, as they were known. For those (everyone) not aware, an e-fed was a roleplaying website where you would create a wrestling character, be booked in matches against other people, and for some the reason the winner would be determined with a writing contest, of all things. Think Dungeons and Dragons, but for wrestling nerds.

2009 – I enter a local writing competition, you can read more about this one here.

2011 – I’m a year into studying a Business degree at University, I’ve not written anything for a long time. The malicious voice has seemingly won. I don’t know it yet, but a lack of a creative outlet is making me pretty miserable. I go into my second year determined to join a society, and I find a small improvisation drama society. The voice is hating this, it’s determined to convince me I’m an imposter in a sea of creative types. It urges me to quit before they find me out as the fraud I am.

But I don’t quit. I don’t quit because for the first time in my life I am surrounded by people who are nurturing and encouraging my spark. Instead of expelling me, they welcome me with open arms. I start performing comedy, I start acting, I start writing again. The voice isn’t quieter at this point, it’s gone.

2013 – I have the winning pitch, and so I’m selected to write and direct the societies of end-of-year production. It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility. It’s the biggest show they put on all year; the whole thing is a whirlwind which definitely deserves a blog post of its own in the future. The show ends up being, in my opinion, a modest success.

2014 – University is over. I move back home, away from my friends, away from their encouragement. I job search, I start work, I stress. I gain weight.

2015 – The voice is back. Thinking about joining a local drama group? They’re filled with an older crowd, you wouldn’t fit in. You were never any good at acting anyway, everyone was just too nice to tell you otherwise. Even if you could act, you’d need to lose weight before you got back on stage. The show you produced and directed wasn’t even good. You were an imposter. Quit these dreams and live in the real world already. Quit. Quit. Quit.

duck

Quit

2016 – I quit.

2017 – I create this website. I write the first post, ‘A Moment in Inferna.’ I think it’s OK. But try as I might, I can’t seem to write anything else I consider better than awful. I start looking at it again, and I wonder if my first post was OK at all. Actually, I start to think it’s quite bad.

2018 – Well hey, you made it. My sad, sole post was the only thing posted on this blog until three weeks ago.

The voice is still there. I didn’t fix it, because I don’t think it’s something that can be fixed. You have to accept and ignore it and move forward.

It’s nagging me even I as write this sentence, to delete this whole post and start again, or even better to quit the whole damn thing. 

I’m not going to though, not this time.

I’m energised. I have big plans for my writing and for this blog, and for the first time in a while, I’m getting stuff done.

It’s time for that formula I promised. Not for success remember, but for perseverance:

Fear of Unfulfilled Passion > Fear of the Malicious Voice

Something for you to think about until next Friday. Now, how about you give me something to think about, or even better something to blog about, in the comments below.

– H. L

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My Struggle with Notebook Addiction

No, not the film.

I’m addicted to notebooks.

Family holidays when I was younger inevitably led to the souvenir shop. It’s a place you’re probably familiar with; it’s filled with mugs, coasters, key chains with your name on them, a general assortment of fine crap. My personal favourite, to the ever disappointment of my dad’s wallet, was notebooks.

An empty word document on a glowing computer screen can be intimidating. We’ve all thought the flashing cursor was mocking us at some point. It breeds doubt, insecurity, and fear; at times it can be a petty, evil little thing. I hear the guy who invented it actually end up being arrested for elder abuse.  

old man

Charles Kiesling invented the blinking cursor and he was actually a wonderful family man, this is also not a picture of him, it’s a stock photo that’s free for me to use without any legal repercussions

I find a notebook to be different. It’s a blank canvas, an invitation to create, the promise of endless possibility and freedom.

You know, on paper.

I have a lot of notebooks, and I’m ashamed to say there’s little to nothing in all of them. It sounds very vogue, but I think I’m more in love with the idea of a notebook, rather than the notebook itself.

Truth be told, there is (as often is the case) a dark side to my addiction. If only abandonment was the worst of my sins when it comes to my innocent paper-filled friends.

I actually treat them quite cruelly. The sad same story happens again and again and it’s only now, writing this blog, that I can see the error in my ways.

I complete the first page with meticulous care and a steady hand, like you do with the first page of a workbook in school. Inevitably though, I’ll make a mistake; a smudge, a misspelling, some abandoned idea. This is where the crazy starts. I think to myself; crossing out is messy. I’ll just rip that page out. I’ll be careful, maybe it’ll give the book something of a shabby chic look.

It doesn’t. It always, always, always, looks like crap. Often it’s a fatal decision that just destroys the entire book. To avoid crossing out a simple mistake because I think it’s messy, we now have other pages falling out, jagged protruding staples, and the book spine equivalent of sciatica.

notebook

No, I clearly don’t buy the books designed to have pages ripped out. They don’t look as good. Shut up.

Cards on the table: I’ve very recently bought another notebook. I was shopping with my friends, and one caught my eye. We all bought one, we made a pact to fill them in a year, or suffer each others judgment and scorn. But how exactly am I, the Patrick Bateman of notebook writers, meant to accomplish this? My notebooks have a worse life expectancy than a mayfly.

The answer, I’m actually pretty proud of: I intentionally trashed the first page.

Well…I say trashed, the first page is an agenda of what I want to do in the next year with my writing and with this blog, and number two on that agenda is:

2.) Not destroy this book because of one mastake

That is a bonafide spelling mistake. It happened, I didn’t tear the page out, I didn’t destroy the book, and the world didn’t end.

That’s the self-sabotaging out of the way, now I’ve got a year to fill this bad boy up, and I sure could use your help. I’ve had a google and I’ve entered into a world with terms like morning pages and dream journals, but I know I’ve only scratched the surface.

Do you own your own journal? Do you have any ideas what else I can do with this sexy thing? Please shoot me a comment below.

– H. L

My First Writing Contest in Almost Ten Years

One of my friends linked me to a creative writing competition that a charity called The Children’s Society is hosting as a part of their Seriously Awkward campaign.

The last writing contest I entered was about ten years ago, all the way back in high school. My entry probably wasn’t very good (mercifully I don’t own a copy) and I never heard back from them – I had just received my first rejection.

First rejection for writing, at any rate.

slap

Her smile said yes, but her hand very clearly said no

I didn’t take the loss well; truth be told it actually put my writing ambitions on hold for a few years – mistake. I’m playing catch up for it now, if I could I’d reach back in time and give that young twerp a smack round the ear. Friggin’ Millennial.

I’m older now, and I’d like to think I’m more mature, well equipped to not only accept my failures but to learn from them. Or, maybe my ego hasn’t changed a bit and the only thing I have to show for my age is deteriorating vision and an expensive mortgage. We’ll soon find out.

The theme of this contest is anything at all to do with 16 and 17-year-olds. Entering the contest means I won’t be able to post the story here (for the time being at least) but there’s no reason I can’t give you a sneak peek at the thought process for my entry.

One of the most awkward first experiences I ever had at sixteen was my first job interview. Job interviews suck, especially your first one. They’re awkward, unnatural social interactions where one side holds all the power. You’re in an unfamiliar environment, you’re most likely wearing unfamiliar clothes, and to top it all off, there’s an unfamiliar person demanding you prove your worth to them.

handshake

Touch it

Seriously, if you’re one of the few people who actually enjoy job interviews – you’re almost definitely demented.

So that was my launching pad. Take the nerves and uncertainty that come with your first job interview, and for a bit of drama let’s multiply the stakes and make it all a billion times worse.

How?

I’m picturing a world, not that far from now, but one where we as a collective have had some terrible hardships, made some terrible decisions. It’s uncannily similar to the world you know now, at first glance at least, but it’s one where its stability is not taken for granted, in fact, it comes at a terrible price. With resources scarce, the United Kingdom has implemented a policy known as The First or Final Interview.

For on the day of their seventeenth birthday, each person must attend their local town hall and have an interview to prove their worth to society. Scholastic achievements, sports, what you’ve done in your spare time; it’s all measured, and it all must be justified. The result is a binary one, you can either pass or fail.

And if you fail – you are put to death. Euthanised, for the good of the state.

Wish me best of luck with the contest – I’ll be sure to share the finished result with you just as soon as I’m able. In the meantime, if you want to help give me some inspiration – leave a comment with your worst job interview horror stories.

– H. L

A Moment In Inferna

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Everything had gone to hell.

That was the only thing that had gone through Amarok’s head for the last hour. He’d stopped walking, stopped planning, stopped trying to find a way out of this whole mess. He stared into the distance. And something stared back.

In a gloved hand Amarok held a small canister, his last one. It was a lifeline. A last flicker of hope that he’d hold out long enough for some reprieve or rescue, but he had long since given up. He was going to die.

All around in every direction lay a wasteland of sand. Desert dunes stretched for miles upon miles. Empty. No vegetation, no noise; not a trace of what had once been here. Just sand and Amarok. And the things staring back.

If I dug here, miles down I would find a city, he thought. A city buried in sand, littered with corpses. Would the remains still be there though? It had all happened so long ago; who knew what the heat had done to them. Amarok pictured petrified bodies, mouths wide open in fear. Maybe they had been reduced to ashes, a sterile but final end. He feared his final theory was correct; they were mulch. Dripping and stagnating; nasty piles of oozing mush.

Amarok could very much feel the heat of the sun. It worked its way towards him, penetrating through his thick suit, drenching him with sweat. Breathing was becoming difficult, when he coughed his visor was sprayed with spittle, clouding his limited view.

He sighed and squeezed his last canister a little tighter.

What good would a few more days do me? He was lost. The great Amarok, lost two days into a fucking hunt. He’d got turned around, took a left somewhere instead of a right. Such a small mistake. Monstrous sandstorms would ravage the land on occasion, shifting mountains of sand and flattening others, meaning Inferna was never quite how you’d left it. The best hunters however had always been able to spot the subtleties, and Amarok was meant to have been the best of the best.

Far away in the distance, at the top of the furthest visible dune, Amarok could just about make out three figures, unmoving. Amarok knew they were watching him.

They were jet black against the horizon. For a while Amarok thought them to be an apparition of the heat, a mirage, brought on by his failing equipment. He had walked for days and they were always there, a half-a-dozen leagues away, but always there. Amarok never saw them move. The heat shimmered all around them, making them look like ghosts.

They were real. Amarok had suffered through more than a few risky hunts in his time, none anywhere close to this one, but he wasn’t a stranger to the odd mirage now and again. This was different. Whatever the figures were, they were real.

Other hunters, prodded a quiet voice in the back of his mind, not for the first time.

“No.”

Amarok cursed at his own idea. He could see the figures and they could see him. If they were other hunters, they would hail him on his radio, or, failing that, they’d surely give some sort of signal. But the radio was dead, and no matter how long he waited, or prayed, or eventually even cried; the radio had remained dead.

He stood, dropping the canister to the sand.

“What do you want!” he screamed, fists clenched at either side, knuckles white. “What do you want from me! What do you—”

He began to cough, began to choke; to die. Amarok fell to his knees and tried to breathe. Nothing. He tried again and the whole world started to fade away.

Finally a breath came. It was weak and made an unpleasant rattling noise; Amarok was sure it was his last.

It wasn’t. A second came, and eventually even a third.

Slowly, Amarok rose to his feet gripping the top of his mask. 

“I know what you want.” he whispered, eyes wide. 

Amarok ripped off his mask, and he began to scream.

The intensity of the sun was unimaginable. In an instant every inch of skin on Amarok’s head began to blister. His nose began to bleed and his eyeballs bulged horrifically as if they were about to burst. A smell of burnt hair invaded his senses as a crippling pain at the back of his skull brought him to his knees. Huge white spots blinded his vision; his hands scrambled for the discarded mask.

As soon as it was secured the sheer intensity of the heat faded, but the searing pain remained. He could feel the meat of his body, cooking. He vomited, plastering his visor. A loud ringing in his ears disturbed him most of all.

Amarok knelt like that for a while as a ruin; as broken as the city that lay buried beneath him. The pain did not stop, but eventually began to dull.

His mind was made up. He patted the sand, caressing it here and there until his hands found what he was searching for.

Amarok stood to his feet, his body shaking in fury and pain. At the back of his suit was a thick, technical panel with a canister protruding slightly from a fitted slot. Carefully, Amarok removed the now empty canister and replaced it with the one he’d found on the floor. His last one.

The suit hummed to life, cool air surrounded Amarok and offered him some small relief from his agony.

As best he could Amarok squinted into the distance through his soiled visor. The vomit smelled foul and turned his stomach, but he dared not remove the mask again.

The dark figures were right where he’d left them, not having moved an inch during the display of madness.

Amorak took a tentative step without incident, surprising himself. So far so good. 

He’d been pushing forward for days, hoping in vain for some sign of home. Now he pushed backwards, in the opposite direction, retracing his steps. Home was no longer the objective. 

An hour passed; Amorak found himself pleased with his results. He’d closed the gap between him and his stalkers considerably. Were they moving towards him too? He hadn’t seen the bastards move, but it sure seemed that way to what was left of his melted senses. Shadowy vultures, coming to claim the rewards of their careful patience.  

“You’re not coming for me,” he panted, still moving. “I’m coming for you.”