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The Idea Fiend – Aligning Your Thoughts

If you’re a writer, I’m pretty sure you have days when ideas flood your mind like an overfilled dam. Whether those ideas are for stories, characters, worlds, or plot points, if managed badly they could get seriously overwhelming.

Align Your Thoughts

I’m currently working on multiple projects (when am I not) and the result is a growing folder of first drafts, story notes and, occasionally, quotes. I don’t have a plan for them other than, “I’ll get to it eventually.” And unfortunately that eventuality never comes to fruition.

“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”
― Mercedes Lackey

What I’ve started doing is the following:

  • Create a Project:  I use X-Mind, a free mind mapping tool, to plan my ideas. Each idea gets its own bubble and I explore each one enough to have some of the basics covered.
  • Make Notes: When I’m not at my computer I use my phone or a notepad to jot down the ideas. Nothing long-winded or detailed. I write short, simple points in bullet form, then link them as I see fit while the ideas flourish.
  • Voice Notes: When I’m driving, I usually put my phone on the dashboard with the voice recorder on and just talk about my ideas. I probably look weird but… aren’t all authors?

Once I have all the ideas, I explore each of them using the age old method: Who? What? Where? When? Why? (and how?)

Things to cover

This method is useful for exploring various aspects of an idea. When it comes to story ideas I use them as follows:

  • Who: Who are the characters in the story?
  • What: What is the story about? What are the characters doing? What is their motivation?
  • Where: Where is the story taking place?
  • When: When is the story taking place?
  • Why: Why are the characters doing what they are doing? Why is the story happening?
  • How: How am I telling this story? Perspective. Genre. Style. Tone. Voice. Etc.

The same method can be applied to scenes.

  • Who: Who are the characters in this scene?
  • What: What is this scene about? What are the characters doing? What happened before? What will happen afterwards?
  • Where: Where is this scene taking place? Where are the characters?
  • When: When is this scene in the story?
  • Why: Why are the characters doing what they are doing? Why is this scene happening?
  • How: How do I start/end this scene? How do I move the story forward?

Things to keep in mind

While having a billion (exaggeration) ideas and jotting each one down is great, the truth is: you can’t write out every idea into a story. Here’s some quick tips on what to do with all of them:

Choose the best/favourite one.

Not all the ideas you have will be great. That’s a given. So why not choose your favourite. If that one doesn’t work, choose the idea that works best or is fleshed out more.

Test it out.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to try out each idea. Choose a couple of your favourites/best and give them a test trial. Take your characters for a walk, explore your world, tell part of the story, or analyse your plot in short paragraphs. See which one is worth focusing on first.

Let it simmer

This is a slightly “dangerous” one but could be useful. Let ideas simmer for a while and do something else. You might gain an epiphany while you cook/clean/game/exercise etc. Just don’t let them sit for too long or you’ll be counterproductive.

Ask a friend

Or a writers group if you’re part of one, or fellow bloggers/writers. Gain some fresh insight to help you make a good choice. Bounce the ideas off people you trust.

Draw it out

Or make an actual mind map or some visual aid – like the wall you see in detective movies. It’s difficult to see your computer files or notes in their individual spaces. Pin them up or use sticky notes with a couple of words then tie them all in using red string (wool is best… also, sarcasm – although now that I think about it…).

Above all else, enjoy the process! One of the worst things to happen is for you to hate the idea you were so excited about. Just remember: the (recycle) bin is a terrible place for an idea to be.

What do you do when you have too many ideas? Please share your advice, you never know who you might help in the process.


New Segment – Genre Writing

Writing for a specific genre is not always easy. There are elements to consider. Writing styles to keep to. Subject matter to think about. The whole spiel.

I’ve decided to share with you my personal writing processes for specific genres. Every month I will select a genre I have worked on and give insights as to how I write stories for it.

Why am I doing this?

There are so many of us writing out there. There are plenty of advice blogs, writing blogs, and tips galore. You just have to Google “How to write *insert genre* stories” and you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. While I have done the same, I find that not all of them work for me. I don’t expect my little segment to be useful to everyone, but maybe you’ll find something helpful nonetheless.

Am I sharing advice?

While general advice is good, it’s still… general. Yes, you as the author must take that general advice and turn it into your own unique story. We may use the same basics but the results we produce are unique to each of us.

Think of clay. In its liquid state it is shapeless potential. That is your idea. There are techniques used to shape the clay and that is general advice. The kiln used to harden the clay is editing. Adding finishing touches like paint is your final draft.

My goal here is to show you how I turn my clay into specific pottery wares.

What genres will I be covering?

At this point there are four genre’s I’d like to focus on. This will start officially in September.

  1. Horror
  2. Steampunk
  3. Sci-fi
  4. Fantasy

That will take me up to December. If it works well enough, I’ll work on other genres too.

What I hope to accomplish

This segment is for me as much as it is for you, dear reader. My writing processes change so much that I become inconsistent between works. Maybe that is something you deal with too, or maybe you want a different perspective. For me, it is a way to learn more about my writing style, while figuring out the fundamentals I use consistently.

I do hope you will comment your own thoughts, ideas and advice with each segment. This is for both readers and writers alike. I’m no expert so perhaps you have insights I’m lacking. Either way, I do hope we can grow together and help each other.

Now, onward to writing!

NaNo Insights: Week 1

I am quite sure (like 120% sure) that you know November is all about NaNoWriMo. Since I’ll be participating again, I have decided to put Monday Book Recommendations on the shelf (ha see what I did there). Mondays will now be dedicated to insights, reflections, analysis and maybe an excerpt from my working novel.

Last Minute Prep

A day away from the month long event, I’ve spent much of my time reading. Unlike the usual reading for fun that I do, I have also been looking at how authors construct their characters, worlds, arcs, and storytelling. I wouldn’t recommend reading multiple books at once, but it is useful to see how different authors approach their novels. These are all old/rehashed insights but they are important to look over one last time.


They are the driving force behind your novel. Bilbo Baggins, Celia and Marco, Jake Epping, Twoflower, Katniss and the slew of characters we’ve met during our reading adventures defined the books we read. They are the reason we loved the journey through Middle Earth, fell in love with the mysterious Revellers, experienced the  arduous 60s trying to prevent an assassination, and so on. The story is told by your characters in their words and actions. So spend a lot of time getting to know your characters, inside out.

Example: 11/22/63 by Stephen King features a number of characters while Jake Epping traipses through the past. Each of them are unique. Each have a certain look, tone and personality. Minor characters but their realness gives more depth to the story, and greater emphasis on the main character.


Great characters need a reason to be. Why do they exist? What are they trying to achieve? Why are they trying to achieve that goal? Consider this for all your characters, even minor characters who do nothing more than greet your main character in the street. A backstory gives them a role and a personality.

The story must also make sense. Beginning half the book as the memoir of a pony loving little girl, and ending with a male focused sci-fi horror space opera with nothing connecting the two might do more than just confuse your reader.

The story must also progress in some way, correlate with your characters, and come to some sort of conclusion – hopefully one that makes sense and wraps up all loose ends. Even if you’re a Pantser, set objectives in the story for your characters. Trust me, it helps.

Example: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the story of Jacob, an average 16 year old who hears fantastical tales from his grandfather about Peculiars. He soon discovers that they are real, and embarks on a life changing journey, three books long, that links right back to his grandfather.


Lastly, your characters need a home. Your story needs a setting. Nothing happens in the obscure blankness of space. Take time defining the world and submerge readers in your creations. Also, don’t assume your readers will have the same picture in your mind if you generalise descriptions. For peripherals you can get away with it, but if your character is about to jump into a vehicle, you’ll have to be more descriptive so readers aren’t chugging down the fairway in a Prius while you meant cruising the autobahn in a Porsche.

Engage the senses as you build your world. Let readers feel the baking heat against their skin, hear the rushing waters pelting the rocky surface, smell the cloying stench of decayed bodies, taste the rich sweetness of strawberry jam, and see the jagged mountain silhouettes rising in the distance. Let them experience the world as your character does.

Example: J.R.R Tolkien’s works. Nuff said.

Enjoy it!

Lastly, enjoy the writing. If all these guidelines make you want to throw your laptop(please don’t!)/notebook across the room in frustration, then you’ve missed the point. Don’t bind yourself unnecessarily to outlines and guides to the point where you lose interest in your story.

Writing 50 000 words is difficult enough, limiting it to a month is strenuous – but not impossible. Enjoy the challenge for what it is, a challenge to sit down and write. We know it is not easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done and be enjoyable at the same time. Give it your all and most importantly, remember:



Writer Values: Time


Yesterday I posted my Wednesday book review very late in the day. Normally I finish a book a week before so I can get the review scheduled and ready for Wednesday afternoon, 12:00PM GMT+2. Not this time. With CampNaNo starting up, preparations to make, book review requests flying in, reading to be done, social media updates, blogs to read and trying to squeeze in what I can still recall from my art lessons… an obvious conclusion suddenly hit me:


Precious Time

Well I do have the time, but all of these activities are time consuming. With work taking up a bulk of my day, it leaves a very limited amount of time to do everything. If you remember my previous blog post Trade Mistakes, I talked about one of the bad habits writers must work through, the “I don’t have time for this.” bad habit. Now there are legitimate reasons, and you can read the article for clarity, but here’s a truism about writing we as writers must embrace: writing takes time.

“Time is what we want most,but what we use worst.”
― William Penn

I write for Gamecca Magazine, a free online digital magazine on games, lifestyle, comics, technology and great articles about the world of gaming in general. My monthly writing consists of a writing previews, which are foresight on upcoming games, what they entail, when they release and so on. Now a one page preview is about 270 words. I can bash out 270 words in 5-10 minutes easy. But to make sure I don’t end up re-hasing the same content the myriad of online gaming sites have, my writing involves lots of research – websites, trailers, developer blogs. And then the writing is no longer 5-10 minutes but 20-30, most of which is spent re-writing, rephrasing, and making sure I don’t overshoot the word count. Three or four previews could take close to two hours in a day.

Earlier this week, determined to write, I got home from work at around 6PM and just crushed out around 3000 words. Being a discovery writer is a perk in this regard as I hadn’t touched that draft in months, picked up the story and just flew right through. I looked up and it was 8PM. 2 hours, gone, just like that.

My Steampunk horror story has a lot of research and looking up the right words, places, settings etc. From the top of my head, I have no map of England to refer to, or what cities are close enough for my character to traverse and how would that happen in that setting etc. So the 1500 words I wrote for one scene took a little over 3 hours.

Book reviews take time to write, writing this blog post takes time to write, making preparations for a writing project takes time, research for your writing takes time, writing your novel, short story, poem, article etc takes time: writing in general takes time.

“Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
Ray Cummings, The Girl in the Golden Atom

It’s so obvious and yet we completely overlook it, or at least don’t grasp it’s fullest extent. So here’s some things to consider as you plan to write:

  • Plan the prep AND the writing: Don’t put aside an hour for writing and spend half of it researching and the other half writing, break those two into separate times if you can. The odd Google or Thesaurus check is okay.
  • Outlines: I know, I know, and as a discovery writer this is not really up my alley, but as my previous article My Plotted Guide to Pantsing has said in more detail, get a basic outline to guide you and pants your way through it. Separate the two too if you can.
  • Goals: Although it can be linked to “outlining” you can also set goals for your writing before hand. Find out what your average word count is in an hour or two or however long, and set that goal. Or set a scene as a goal. Or plotting as a goal. Or research as a goal. And stick to it! Then you know how long you can plan your writing time for.
  • Tell people to go away: Okay just warn them that for the next hour or so you are not to be disturbed, even if the house is on fire. Disruptions can take precious time away and you don’t want that.
  • Put aside distractions: Turn off the internet. Put your phone on silent and hide it in the other room. Log out of Steam or or Skype anything that will pop up and distract you. You’ve set time aside for writing, and writing takes time, so just do it.
  • Find your space: Find a a good corner away from distractions and where you are most comfortable. Writing takes time, and that’s time spent in one position for quite a while. Make it a pleasurable experience.
  • Time your writing: You know when you are most productive in your writing. If it’s between 2am and 4am, then schedule everything else around it so you don’t arrive at work as a zombie. Or bark at the car beside you because you overslept and they are in your way.
  • Prepare your environment: Move the kettle to your writing space. (Sorry fam, I need dis!) Take your bathroom break, set-up your laptop/computer. Prepare your playlist. Don’t waste your writing time with things that could be done beforehand. When you have an hour to write, write for an hour.

And lastly, be disciplined. If you have free reign on your time, as I sometimes do, then plan it accordingly. But keep to your time. Also, take breaks. You can’t be staring at your screen for three hours straight. Well you can, but don’t. Get up and take a short walk. Stretch. Do breathing exercises. Go talk to your family or friends. And lastly, enjoy your writing and just write.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
― Louis L’Amour

Discovery Writing: My Plotted Guide to Pantsing

A guide to Pantsing_Edited

I recently wrote a draft for a future guest blog article for Rachel Poli’s blog. It got me thinking about my writing process and that from my first steps into the writing scene, I was a pantser. In fact my life in general is spent in pantser mode and no it’s not randomly pulling people’s pants down. Pantsing or Discovery Writing is the act of just writing down a story and discovering your characters, worlds and sometimes plot, while you’re writing. Spontaneity and unpredictability; very little planning and a lot of “What are you doing character?”, “This isn’t where my story was supposed to go!” and other exciting, frustrating, dramatic exclamations.

The opposite of the discovery writer is the Out-liner. The plotter who draws up the path that the story is going, shapes the characters and then puts them together in writing the story, hardly ever deviating from the outlined plot. Each of these types of writing have their benefits and shortfalls, and since I’m more of a discovery writer, I’d like to share with you:

Discovery Writing: My Plotted Guide to Pantsing

Finding out what kind of writer you are, helps make the writing process that much easier. Nothing is more frustrating than beating your head against the wall hoping for a different result… oh wait that’s insanity. Uhh nothing is more frustrating than trying the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. You may be a discovery writer told to plot everything and stick to the story, or an outliner who was told to just let the creativity drive you onward and not worry about the plot. Well…

Discovery Writer vs Outliner

Discovering the Traits

Before we jump in, you want to make sure you know what kind of writer you are, so I’ll list a short and not exhaustive list of traits that a each type of writer has:

Discovery writers…

  • Make up the stories, characters and worlds as they go along like rolling a 20-sided D&D dice.
  • Complain that their characters don’t behave as they are supposed to. Like when do they anyway?
  • Figure out their plot as they write – even if they have a general idea of where the story is supposed to go.
  • Get the plot/story muddled up somewhere and usually find enough plot holes to build an underground civilization for Morlocks.
  • Don’t necessarily know what’s coming up in the current or next chapter or scene… or book, as they write.
  • Chase plot bunnies like hungry wolves.
  • While chasing plot bunnies, have epiphanies about their story which in turn cause them to chase plot cows or sheep.
  • Talk about their characters like true philosophers; trying to figure out who they are and why they are.

Outline writers…

  • Plan and plot out almost every character, scene, chapter and story to the point of writing the story. They call this “first draft”.
  • Complain when characters pull the story away from the outline. Or they are just generally complaining about their characters.
  • Have enough images of all their characters to reconstruct Google Images. Face-swap is the greatest invention since Scrinever.
  • Know exactly what each chapter is about, what’s going to happen in chapter 2, 3 and 52… and the fourth book in the trilogy as they write.
  • Have seen most of the plot holes and worked around them – at the cost of re-outlining the story and characters and fitting new ones in. They call this the edited-first draft…
  • Fight the plot bunnies tooth and nail.
  • Talk about their characters like they were real people. Excessively.

Well you get the gist of what I’m saying right? Discovery writers figure it out as they go, Outliners plot it out before they write. Each style has unique shortfalls, but we’re not going to focus on the negatives; it’s not the point of this post. I want to combine the positives of each style and make a fusion(-ha!) to show you how my writing process goes.

Beginning, Middle, End – Fundamentalist Writing

Every story needs to begin somewhere, hit some sort of mid-point and then mash into the brick wall… uhhh arrive at a destination. My 2015 Southern African Historical Fantasy fiction NaNoWriMo novel *breathe*, followed these simple highschool English class basics:

  • My characters started at a beginning, and not from their beginning, but the beginning of the story; in this case, right in the middle of a veld battling against a mythological lion.
  • I had a basic outline of where I wanted my character to get to in the middle, the revelation and insight he should gain and at what level of strength he should be.
  • All of this would then spiral towards the end and a final conclusion with a major revelation.

I knew what the revelation would be too, much like I knew what that mid-point revelation would be. These basic outlines guided my story and kept writer’s block at bay. The discovery writing was all the words, characters, scenes, epic mage-battles and deaths between those points.

Productivity Upsurge

NaNoWriMo requires you to write 50 000 words in a month. When I was pantsing the previous years, I failed each time. I kept hitting blocks in my story and not knowing where I was going next. This was a trait with the hundreds (not exaggerating) of drafts I had. I just wrote until I was all wrote out. Sometimes that would be after the first epic scene in my head, most times it was halfway through because I had no idea what I was trying to achieve. This time, with those basic outlines guiding my way, I completed my novel with eight whole days to spare; and I could have definitely finished it earlier:


Holey Plots

I wrote my 2055 short story over six weeks, every Friday (or Thursday night) I would write the next part of the series just flying by the seat of my pants. I was so proud of my Sci-Fi story I decided I would post these up on Wattpad too. Then I was so chuffed, I figured I’d go back and edit them (you mean you posted without editing? Gasp!) to publish as short stories and although the words were fine, the story had a major plot hole in the fifth and sixth instalments. I basically had to rewrite those to fit in what I’d written in the first two instalments. Even before editing, a simple outline would had sufficed to prevent such a major gap in the plot.

Focus and Fear

Lastly, although more could be said, having an outline can stop any fears you might have about scope of the book. You have a seven book epic sci-fi fantasy horror romance novel, about a pilot for the Galactic Federation of Magic Swordsmen, but he can only wield a staff because he’s allergic to swords, and he’s stuck on a demonic planet where the evil empress also happens to be a male crew member who transforms when too near his/her castle. It’s massive. An outline can break each of those chapters and episodes into smaller chunks that later you bring together to form your complete epic.

Outlines also help to keep you focused on the story rather than chase plot bunnies. There’s nothing wrong with going with the flow of your story, but when your Staff wielding magic swordsmen ends up on Earth married to the girl next door in the third chapter… well gee not so epic anymore right? And you can apply it to many scenarios. Rather put the new idea aside and see if it will fit in or write it as a new story/idea/backstory.

“…therein is in writing the constant joy of sudden discovery, of happy accident.” H.L. Mencken


I wrote this article applying these very points. Conclusion and all look at that. And you know what? I enjoyed the journey as much as I would have without an outline, perhaps more because now I know where I’m going and it feels so good to actually get there. Writing is like a road trip, you plan the stops but enjoy the journey between each one:

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. ~Sharon O’Brien

Where is my Muse?

The year is flying by faster than you can say half-way-through-twenty-fifteen and with it, deadlines, competition closing dates and a fast approaching NaNoWriMo. With June now past, stories published, feature articles written, the next six months loom ahead carrying some high expectations. The only problem I am facing, is finding my muse.

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Cooking up the Perfect Character: Masterchef Version


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