What ho, what ho! I’m telling you, I leave this blog for five minutes and the world erupts into chaos. Not only is the world freaking out, but our systems at work went down a few weeks ago, leaving us with no access to anything, and eight days later, when they were finally back up and running, I received a message from our printer telling us that the company that makes the cloth we use for our hardback books had recently had a fire and a chunk of their stock (mostly colours we use regularly, of course) had been lost or damaged.
Bizarrely, it’s something of a relief to be confined with a fever and a cough. I slept in today. I finished a typesetting job. I video called a dear friend in the States. I watched too many episodes of Horrible Histories.
I wrote this post.
I thought it would be interesting to participate in the Never Have I Ever game that a few of my writing buddies have been doing recently. Their answers made me realise just how different we are, and how differently we write books, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. Be warned though, this post contains a ton of Psych gifs.
There’s also an announcement I’ve decided to make that isn’t that big for you (though if you don’t read it, you may end up being rather confused), but is something of a nerve-wracking milestone for me. Hold on to the end of this post and all will be revealed. But for now, never have I ever. . .
. . .started a novel that I didn’t finish.
Finishing novels is actually the exception to the rule for me, but I’m gradually tipping that balance. I started and half-wrote so many (so many) novels in my childhood and teens that it’s ridiculous. Most of them are lost now, and I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not. I’ve wondered before whether perhaps it was a waste, but I don’t think so. There was a lot to be learned from my fumbling early attempts, and there are characters and concepts that have survived and been polished up to be re-used.
. . .written a novel by hand.
This was the only way I could find that meant I finished a novel. There’s no going back to edit and no screen-time limits to stop you when you write by hand. Besides, it feels more personal to see your story in your own handwriting, rather than some random font. I’ve only recently transitioned to typing because of the speed, but I’m considering creating a font from my handwriting to help. I guess, writing by hand is what helped me overcome and finish a full novel, and now that I know I can do it, it’s a bit easier than it used to be on the computer.
. . . changed tenses midway through a story.
Of course not. I honestly don’t understand people that can’t keep their tenses consistent, but I guess I have something of an advantage in that I essentially ate books from the time I was able to read, so tense is something I’m very familiar with (Note: tense and POV are not the same thing people!). The only reason I’ve ever changed tenses is if I’m changing time periods. In The Rose Boys, Mr Rose’s perspective is present tense and first person, but Otto’s is past tense in third person. This is partly because I’m not smart enough to write two first person voices that are distinct enough, and because the tense reflects where they are in time (Mr Rose is in the present, while Otto is in the past).
. . . not researched anything before starting a story.
It’s the exception to the rule if I do research something. Often, stories are built on things I already know and have been playing with in my head beforehand. Or they’re fantasy and I’m enjoying making it up as I go along because I’m a discovery writer and find that planning and outlining and researching only serves to kill the idea dead before the writing part even begins.
. . . changed my protagonist’s name halfway through the book.
Never. It’s so much hassle (especially when writing by hand). We have multiple drafts for a reason; make a note and move on.
. . .written a story in a month or less.
It took me slightly over three weeks to write the first draft of the novella that became The Rose Boys, but that’s not that amazing when you realise that it was only 30,000 words. I would love to get faster at writing drafts though. My first book took four years (admittedly I wrote it at university), and The Rose Boys will have taken me about a year – if you count the six months I spent ignoring it because I couldn’t work out how to expand it into a novel like I wanted to.
. . . fallen asleep while writing.
Why of course I have. Many times. Sometimes because I decided to get some work done when I got in from night shift, sometimes because I used to like to write in the evening. The funny part is waking up and reading the last couple of sentences that made total sense while I was drifting off but are utter garbage in the cold light of day (or mid-afternoon).
. . .corrected someone’s grammar in real life or on the internet.
Only under two conditions: first being that they asked for that kind of feedback. Secondly if they were being a smart alec about how much they know about grammar and needed taking down a peg or two. Otherwise, I’m fairly relaxed. There are certain things that make a muscle in my jaw twitch, but I’m Scottish and we have our own non-English rules of grammar, so I feel it’s a little unfair to complain about others.
. . .yelled at all caps at myself in the middle of a novel.
No. I write notes in all caps on post-it notes when I leave a note, but it’s to distinguish from my normal chicken scratch in the body of the novel. I’m not an all-caps kind of girl. I believe that if you want to emphasise something, there are ways of doing it clearly without resorting to all-caps, underlining, or that weird thing where you put full stops between all the words. All caps feels too amateur to me (and I don’t like being shouted at).
. . . used ‘I’m writing’ as an excuse.
To be honest, I’m more of the kind of person that is very secretive about the fact that they write and is more likely to hide it than use it as an excuse. I think my parents have used it as an excuse on my behalf before, but I think that was more in the realm of essay writing than novels.
. . . killed a character that was based on someone I know in real life.
There are two reasons I’ve never done this. The first is that I’m too laid back to go to so much effort to make my distaste for a person known. Let’s just argue, get the conflict over with in real life, and make up or move on. The other reason is that I never deliberately base any of my characters on anyone I know because it just seems like such a dangerous idea.
. . . used pop-culture references in a story.
Oh I absolutely have. There are references to pop songs and political events in The Rose Boys and sometimes I give myself a little giggle by slipping things in to my fantasy novels, just to see if anyone notices.
My crowning pop-culture reference wasn’t actually writing related. I had a lecturer at university who I knew loved Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and had spent all four of my years there waiting to find the opportune moment to slip a reference in naturally. My lecturer was a very serious fellow, quite intense, and you were doing well to get a dry smile out of him. In my final semester, we were in a very intense class on Systematic Theology and were discussing the relationship of God to time. About an hour in, he slowed the discussion by leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head and he shrugged and said, “I mean, what is time?”
To which, quick as a whip, I replied, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.”
Well, the belly laugh that received was the peak of my academic career, truth be told.
Not that any of that was relevant to this post, but it makes me smile just thinking about it.
. . .written between the hours of 1am and 6am.
Frequently when I worked nights. I’d leave my notebook at the nurses’ station and scribble down a few words here and there if there was time in the night (as if!). The latest I’ve stayed up when not working would probably be about 1.30 writing.
I just realised that I have actually based characters on real people and killed them, I do apologise. Both of them are in The Rose Boys. One of the nursing home residents is very loosely based on a lady I looked after while she was dying. The other is a boy my granddad knew and his death is the same as the boy’s death. But I shall say no more for fear of spoilers.
. . .drank an entire pot of coffee while writing.
Tea, yes, coffee no. Normally, I make a cup of tea before I sit down, then I slip into deep focus and totally forget to drink it. One of the benefits of black tea is that it’s fine hot or cold.
. . . written down dreams to use in potential novels.
Once or twice. Only if there was an idea or image that particularly struck me. Normally, I don’t remember my dreams, though I may have a strong emotion that carries over into wakefulness (usually a profound and inexplicable sorrow) and sometimes I am singing a song in my dream and wake up with it on my lips (hymns usually). It’s more likely that I remember the occasional nightmare.
. . . published an unedited story on the internet or Wattpad or a blog.
Yep. The dissertation I handed in for my final year at university was a first draft (long story). I’ve never been amazing at re-drafting things, so most things get a read-through and a tidy-up before I post them, but rarely more. Redrafting is a new thing for me and I’m finding it a challenge if I’m honest. It’s an area that is essential to grow in if you’re serious about writing though.
. . . procrastinated homework because I wanted to write.
Sort of. I used to be able to bribe myself to do homework with the promise of writing when it was finished. The problem is that I write best under pressure. Something about looming deadlines feels so very freeing. . .
. . . typed so long my wrists hurt.
No. I know when to take breaks. I have written so long that my hands have cramped and I’ve struggled to let go of the pen, but that usually takes at least three hours of intense writing. I have permanent callouses where my pen rests. There was also that time I sat so long that my feet went numb and I fell over when I tried to get up from the computer (I was very young and sitting awkwardly).
. . . spilled a drink on my laptop while working.
Absolutely not. I have clumsy streaks, but when that’s happening, I’m extra careful. I did have my friend’s over-excited spaniel leap on my lap as I was writing and knock keys off the keyboard though.
. . . forgotten to save my work/draft.
Never. One of the benefits of having a dad who is good at IT is that he drums into you that you don’t touch the screen, you don’t eat or drink over your keyboard, and you always save your work at regular intervals (back it up if you can too).
I am ever-grateful for this training.
. . . laughed like an evil villain while writing a scene.
I never understood this. I take no glee in my characters’ sufferings. I’m also prone to slipping into deep focus, so I just sit there like a gargoyle while all the intensity and emotion is exploding in my head (it’s very noisy in my head, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside).
. . .cried while writing a scene.
No. There’s work to be done. I have welled up reading a scene back, but when it comes to difficult scenes, I mostly just feel a lot of pent up energy, like I’m pushing hard at something until I get through it. Then it’s just tiredness and relief.
. . . created maps of my fictional world.
I sketched out a ridiculously basic scribble of my first novel to help me work out which direction they were going in when, but other than that, no. I have a map of the city in my current WIP in my head, but not on paper.
That said, I love maps in books and would really, really like it if someone who could actually draw maps would make ones for my books when/if they get published.
Maps make for beautiful endpapers in hardbacks. Just saying.
. . . researched something shady for a novel.
Did you know that the German army were hopped up on meth for most of WW2? And I didn’t even look that up, I just kind of stumbled across it. There are certain types of shady I stay well away from, but unusual weapons, pain-related subjects, and unusual deaths have cropped up in my search history. I don’t know if this is worse, but generally I can ask my dad.
. . . finished a novel.
Two! Once you finish the first one, it no longer seems so daunting. If anything, you get bit by the bug and it becomes harder to abandon projects because you’re chasing the high of finishing them.
The Big Announcement (That Isn’t Really That Big At All)
Well there you are, a little bit of an insight into the creative part of my mind. If you are a writer, I’d love to know your answers. I think it might be fun to do a reader version too sometime.
So the announcement is simply that I have decided to drop my pen name. I told you it wasn’t exciting, but it might be potentially confusing. I’ll be letting people know on social media. My handle (@paperstrider on Instagram and Twitter) won’t change, just my display name.
A brief explanation: I decided a year or two ago to use a pen name. My thinking behind that choice was that it would give me a little more privacy, and that it would be easier to spell than my real name. These are perfectly valid reasons to use a pen name (just so you know) and if that’s what you want, you go for it.
For me, I realised recently that though these were legitimate reasons, they were also an excuse. The truth is that I was scared to share my writing (I still am) — to be honest, I was freaked out by the idea of even admitting that I write! A pen name was a good way to maintain privacy and help people get my name right while also preventing people who know me from finding me. Those are not good reasons.
I have thought about it, and I think that step one of overcoming my fears is simple: use my own name (Step two is allowing my parents to read The Rose Boys, but I’m not quite ready for that yet!). Nothing will change, it’s still me, it’s just that I’m not using a made up name, I’m using the perfectly good one that my parents gave me (it was a birthday present).
So hello, for those of you who knew me by my pen name, my name is Cara Devereux and I’m a little nervous to meet you.