Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Cried But Did The Thing Anyway – Double Drat That Draft!

cbdtta_tinyCried But Did The Thing Anyway is a series of blogs posted on a roughly weekly basis about various challenges faced by one Maria Stanislav, struggling writer, underpaid translator, and chronic volunteer. If you’ve got nothing better to do with your time, you can read the whole damn thing here, or check out a few choice pieces, like Why Self-Care Is Important, or Why Making Art Means Being Vulnerable.

song_coverAlso, have you heard, that my comic, A Song For My Brother, is now available on Etsy, including a wonderfully affordable digital version?

Check out the free preview here. It’s pretty awesome.


Guess what, this week I’m actually going to talk about writing.

Yeah, what the big text above says. I’ve been meaning to talk about some practical aspect of writing for a while now, but have been consistently stopped by a voice in my head that said – hey, before you make posts dispensing invaluable writing advice, how about you, y’know, WRITE something? The voice of reason can be a downright bitch.

It’s true, though. Short of a recent short story, a fanfic one-shot, and a short comic book, I haven’t written anything since October 2014. I think it was the realization of exactly how long it’s been since I touched my novel that made me buckle up and face the monster I’ve been avoiding all this time. The moleskine in which I write my first draft.

It went something like this.


For the rest of this post to make sense, I suppose I should talk a little about my process.

When I write short stories, it’s anybody’s guess whether I’m going to type straight to the screen, or write in a notebook, or scribble on a McDonald’s tray liner (true story). For novels, though, I’ve developed a process that works for me.

Draft 1.0

First, I write the words in a Moleskine. Specifically, a Plain Large Moleskine Notebook (192 pages, slightly bigger than A5, soft black cover, unruled acid-free paper the shade of parchment). So far, I’ve been using two of those per novel – and since I’m currently on book two in a six-book series, if you ever want to give me a gift, you know what to do.

Also, since I’ve taken a tangent into stationery, I’ll talk about pens, too. As particular as I am about my writing notebook, I’m entirely unfussed about pens, my only requirement being a rubber grip. At this time, my favorite is the black ballpoint Zebra Z-Grip, which sits very comfortably in my hand, and is very budget-friendly, at roughly 50p / pen.

So, basically, that’s it for the first draft – black ballpoint, Moleskine, and wherever I land my butt. Which, more often than not, is Starbucks. (Yes; I am THAT writer. Commence the abuse of my pretentious self.)


Draft 1.5

Ah, this is where things get interesting. Traditionally, once I was done writing for the day, or when I reached the end of a chapter, I would take my handwritten draft 1.0 and type it up, creating a draft 1.5 of sorts. I wouldn’t be editing per se – but cleaning up what I’d put on the paper, rolling some dialogue around in my mouth to see if it sounded natural, fixing the most glaring problems. Then, and only then would I proceed to write the next bit of the story.

Draft 2.0

This is a draft that happens when the body of the novel has been written (1.0) AND typed up as I go along (1.5). That’s when I go back to the beginning, and start revising. This is also the stage where I involve the most trusted of my beta readers. Any real rewriting of pieces of the novel happens at this stage.


Draft 3.0

This draft is basically a proofread of Draft 2.0. By now, most of the kinks in the manuscript have been ironed out, and it only needs a polish. At the end of this is the product I am ready to show to people.

Drafts 4.0 – ∞

The existence and number of those depends entirely on the work of agents (if any) and the publishers’ editors. Once I’ve had some experience with those, I’ll be sure to tell you.


So what’s the deal this time, eh?

I’ve always been aware that the very existence of my Draft 1.5 was a violation of the so-called ‘golden rules’ – that is, never stop while writing the first draft. Let it be bad, as long as it exists. Don’t stop to fix it, or you’ll lose momentum. Etcetera, etcetera.

This was something I’ve never been able to do. I once took part in NaNoWriMo, and finished around 20k words – but those were words I’ve written down AND then typed up, cleaning as I went along. To go on writing without making sure that my recent work was making sense was unthinkable.

And yet, I decided to try. When I started my second novel, I plunged ahead with my first draft without looking back. Writing on paper has always been a great way to build momentum for me, since the permanence of ink on the page stopped me from spending an hour revising each paragraph. Now, I was going to harness that momentum, and drive straight into a full first draft without all that pesky type-as-you-go business.

Two weeks later, I was ten thousand words in, I had completed the first section of the novel, and was prepared to start on the second, where I was going to introduce a second major POV character. And that was where I crashed. The momentum of the ‘first draft, no looking back’ principle has turned into a downhill dash, that moment when you realize your body is moving too fast for your feet to keep up, and you’re going to trip in three, two, one… trip, slip, CRASH.


Three more weeks after that, I tried picking myself up, and even wrote another thousand words or so – but my heart wasn’t in the story anymore. Other parts of life weren’t making things easy, either, and I did the only thing I could do at the time – let go. For longer than I planned. Because every time I thought of coming back, I imagined the mountain of draft that needed sorting and cleaning before I could move any further in the story. I thought of how messy that draft must be, of how little sense it must make, of how much work it’s going to take before I can start WRITING again, rather than cleaning.

Well, I finally picked up my Moleskine again, today, and typed up the first chapter written in it (which, upon reflection, is likely to be split into two). And guess what?

My first draft wasn’t that bad.

Obviously, it has all the expected problems of being the first chapter written before the rest of the book. It’s a curious combination of over-explanation of some things and under-exposition of others. It lacks descriptions because the first major scene is happening in a place described close to the end of the previous novel, so I have to constantly remind myself that a reminder of where the characters are would be a useful thing. Its mood is all over the place, but that is a thing that might end up being a feature rather than a bug, considering the mental state of my narrator.

But is it a chunk of text I am going to shake my head at, scrap, and start all over again? No. I expect nothing in this 10k-word section is going to fall into that category (nothing longer than a paragraph, anyway).

Because, and I’m going to sound extremely vain, I am unable to do something that writers are commonly encouraged to do – write crappy first drafts. My first drafts can be rough, messy, overly wordy and under-exposed. But they will not have plot holes. They will not have inconsistent characterization. They will not lead me into a dead end. Why?

Three words. Character-driven stories.

As a writer, I’m not a deity, but rather, a journalist. I peek over my characters’ shoulders, and scribble down what they do, what they say, what they think. I’m not writing a story – I’m telling my account of the events observed. If you tell someone the story of how you and your crush went on a date, there can’t be a plot hole in there – and if there seems to be one, then you’re simply omitting something, or lying altogether. When you’re trying to figure your way out of a problem, there’s never such thing as a dead end, because one way or another, you end up doing something – even if that means being stuck and waiting for something to happen that would charge the situation, for better or worse.

That is why, I feel, I can’t write low-quality first drafts. That is also why I need to frequently go back and make sure that I wrote things down the way they happened – because writing anything else would be a lie. (I have the feeling that character-driven writing is going to be my next week’s topic.)

So, at the end of the day…

Today, picking up my Moleskine again, after long, too long a time, I learned a valuable lesson about writing. And that is, you have to make your own rules. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If I need to spend longer on my first draft, to achieve peace of mind by virtue of my weird-ass Draft 1.5, before continuing on with the story – then that’s what I’m going to do. Anyone in disagreement with my method can – and should – go their own way and write their own way. I’ve found mine, for the time being.


P.S. In a wonderful feat of happenstance, Neil Gaiman answered a follower’s question on Tumblr today:

ahalffinishedbook asked: Do you believe in rules that dictate how someone should write structure, plot, etc.? I’m a student and I often question the books we read that claim there are writing “cans and can’ts” as though they are black and white. My classmates think I’m naive to take them with a grain of salt. If possible, I’d like to know your opinion. (P.S. I like your 8 rules much more. They are motivational. Thank you.)

Neil Gaiman: 
No, I don’t believe that there are rules. Or at least, if there are, they are huge and simple. For example:Write clearly and understandably about people you (and we) can care about, and keep us caring about them to the end.…is probably a rule. But perhaps we don’t have to care about the people in the story — the fun of the story might be the way it’s told, or something just as unlikely.

The nearest I’ve come to a rule is, keep the reader turning the pages and don’t let them feel cheated a the end.

Oh, and Write as best you can, though. And maybe a little better.

P.P.S. The eight rules the reader is referring to are Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing. #3 and #8 are my personal favorites.

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Cried But Did The Thing Anyway – Writing Is Like…?

[Click here for other posts in the series Cried But Did The Thing Anyway – Life of a Freelance Writer]
Part the Sixth – Writing Is Like…?
Today, on Cried But Did The Thing Anyway, I want to talk about what writing is like. I’m going to take the writing experience and wrap it in a metaphor, adding mystique to the act of scratching a piece of paper with a pen. Every sailor talks about the sea, every mother talks about pregnancy, and I feel that every writer is entitled to talk about what writing is like to them. (So long as they don’t spend more time talking about it than actually writing.)

Wallpaper by WriterzBlox

Wallpaper by WriterzBlox

cbdtta_tinyEven if I wanted to be original in my description, I think I’d suffer a miserable failure. I mean, my competition is literally thousands of people over hundreds of years, who dedicated their lives to spinning words in the best way they can. Besides, I’m not aiming for ingenuity in my description, but rather want to be genuine.

To me, writing – particularly, a novel – is like a long walk between two places I know.

This description falls somewhere in between the opinion of E.L. Doctorow:

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

…and that of Stephen King:

“For me, writing is like walking through a desert and all at once, poking up through the hardpan, I see the top of a chimney. I know there’s a house under there, and I’m pretty sure that I can dig it up if I want.”

To me, this is what it’s like. At the beginning, I’m in a place I know. I know where my characters are standing at the beginning of the story, I have some idea of what the world around them is like, and what direction they’re heading in.

Then, at the end of that route, there’s the destination. I’m pretty familiar with it, too. In the extended metaphor, it’s not exactly my home town, but a place I’ve visited a few times, and can find my way around.

And then there’s getting from one place to the other. I might have a map, showing me what kind of terrain lies between these two places (that would be the roughest of rough outlines of my plot). I might have a compass to tell me which way I’m facing (and that would be the knowledge of how my characters react to things). Aside from that, the only way to find out what happens is to start walking. And that’s the hardest part.


It’s weird, right? What’s so hard about walking? Most of us have been walking for most of our lives, and we don’t find this task daunting on a daily basis. We know exactly how to walk – left foot, right foot, repeat. But tell someone you’ve just walked ten miles, and the nicest question they come out with is, ‘Is it, like, for charity?’ (True story, by the way, no metaphors here.)

But once you’re on the road, and you’ve decided that walking is your only method of transportation between the two chosen points, there’s no end to surprises you can find. You end up walking longer because highways lack pavements, you get lost, get rained on, you find beautiful nooks you never would’ve stumbled into otherwise, you stop at cafes in the middle of nowhere to charge your phone. And the funniest thing is, once you’ve walked anywhere once, walking there for the second time takes three quarters of the time and less than half the effort.

This is why, between E.L. Doctorow’s and Stephen King’s quotes, I tend to lean more towards the latter. Driving through the night with only your headlights to see by is a great metaphor, sure, but it involves a machine that helps you get to places. An element of support, a safety net of sorts. Walking on foot, you’ve got no wheels to cover the road in your stead. Scratching your way through a hundred thousand words of first draft, you have no one else to figure it out for you.

Which brings me back to the Neil Gaiman quote I opened this post with. One word after another. Left foot, right foot. That easy. That hard. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Because you never know what to expect.

So, what’s writing like for you? A road trip? A surgery? A Machiavellian plan? Leave a comment, let me know!

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The Ocean at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange

(Warning: this post will make the most sense to someone who has a) read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman; b) has ever been deeply impacted by someone’s art. (a) is not obligatory, but recommended. (b) is highly desirable, for your sake more than mine.)

This spring, I came back to Edinburgh, for the first time since a very memorable night in 2010. That was the night I met Gerard Way for the first and, so far, only time (I’ve seen his band My Chemical Romance play once before then and three times since, but never got to talk to him again). We exchanged a few words and two-and-a-half high-fives (nerves play havoc with my hand-eye coordination). The whole encounter took no more than two minutes. To date, my only tangible proof that said meeting took place is a packet of cigarettes with a Californian tax stamp, which Gerard had traded me for a pair of goggles that were part of my costume.

Out of context, the meeting itself was hardly anything special. But in the context of my life at the time, it was one of the ‘shining moments’ that make their way into poetry. A perfect alignment of time, space, heart, and soul.

It wasn’t something I could see right away. Moments like that are too big to see when you’re close to them. At the time, all you feel is overwhelmed. Deep down, you know that something strange and wonderful is happening to you, but all you’ve got to show for it is the vague feeling that somewhere, the proverbial stars aligned, the proverbial cogwheels clicked into place.

But as time passes, you look back, and realize, with ever increasing clarity, that you were right. If your life were a universe, that moment was the fleeting instant of perfect universal balance. Bodies in every orbit, from an atom to a galaxy, each in a place that’s inexplicably yet unequivocally right.

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Are You Sure You Want To Live Like Common People?

Every now and again, I feel like a bit of a fraud. I’m told this is normal.

Singer, musician, artist and paradigm-changer Amanda Palmer talks about the feeling she calls the Fraud Police, an “imaginary, terrifying force of experts and real grown-ups who don’t exist and who come knocking on your door at 3am when you least expect it, saying ‘fraud police. we’ve been watching you and we have evidence that you have no idea what you are doing. and you stand accused of the crime of completely making shit up as you go along.'” (you can read her whole speech on the subject here or watch the video of it there).

Worldwide-acclaimed, award-winning and generally awesome writer Neil Gaiman speaks of a similar feeling, calling it the Imposter Syndrome, “the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you” (again, the whole speech can be found transcripted here or in video form, and I heavily recommend it to anyone who… oh, everyone, really).

(Screencap from video by BBC Radio One)

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…a follow up to the previous post

Okay, it’s one thing to poke fun at self for getting absolutely over-the-top squeeful over having one’s cover of another artist’s song being recognised and featured on their website-

-she said, as if that was something that happened to her on a daily basis, and used the words ‘another artist’, as opposed to ‘an artist’, to boot. Let me get my feet back on the ground and rephrase that.

Having my cover featured the way it was WAS every reason for me to get as squeeful as I did (I’m fully aware that I didn’t necessarily come across as extremely squeeful in my previous post; it was some hours after the initial squee wore off, and I blame The Vampires.)

Note: I will most likely make reference to The Vampires often enough. What they are a universal bane of creativity everywhere. The original reference to them as such is taken from this song, which I cannot recommend strongly enough. One day, I will have a page sharing what moderately useful knowledge I’ve already accumulated in my forays into creativity, and a link to that song will be somewhere very close to the top among Valuable Advice.

So, I was happy and reasonably proud, and then something happened. This.

In case you’re too lazy to click, or not familiar enough with Twitter to see the point immediately, the explanation is as follows. Neil Gaiman was going through the art submitted in response to the 8in8 call for videos and covers. He came across mine. He liked it. And he wrote on his Twitter about it.

Even as I look at this words I have just typed, I feel like dissolving into netspeak, which I normally use extremely sparingly, but which, at times, is just evocative enough to get the magnitude of one’s feelings across. I think I will limit myself to:


P.S. Much later, I noticed a tweet that was done very shortly after Mr Gaiman’s original tweet containing the link to my song. The user was spamming advertising a promoter, promising “1000’s more Fans/Likes to any facebook, 1000’s more Followers to any twitter! only at @[promotersname]”. Brief research showed that identical or similar tweets were made to a number of tweets containing links to music at Soundcloud, where my song is stored. Nevertheless, this was amusing in the highest degree. A BIT too early to be approached by labels and suchlike, I’d say.

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