This Writing Life: Writing Without Purpose

I feel like a lot of the recent posts I’ve written, or haven’t yet written but plan to write, have a common theme: namely, that it’s important to know the rules of writing fiction, but also when to break them. Or, in some cases, to break them… but only temporarily.

Take this particular piece of advice: every scene in your story should have a purpose. As a reader, I can’t dispute this. Reading a meandering book, filled with descriptions or exposition that seem to do nothing but show you how skilled the writer thinks they are, is deeply frustrating. On the writing side, I think we should strive for purpose and meaning in every scene of a finished story, to improve pacing and tension, and to stop the reader getting bored. But no published story starts out as a fully formed, completed animal, and that’s where breaking the rules come in.

You see, I think there’s something to be said for not always knowing your scene’s purpose before you write it. Admittedly, not knowing for an entire novel would make writing it a very slow affair, but sometimes it can be a relief to throw caution to the winds and just write, to see where the characters take you. Not only might you surprise yourself with the twists the story takes, but there can be some truly serendipitous moments, throwing up new possibilities you’d never considered before.

If you consider yourself a pantser, i.e. you write by the seat of your pants, this is probably a feeling you get every day. I believe even staunch outliners can benefit from occasionally writing without purpose, though. It often feels to me as though some subconscious part of my brain keeps working on my stories when I’m not actively thinking about them (call it the Muse, if you will, although I don’t believe that’s something writers should rely on or even need to be able to write). When you write without any clear idea of where a scene is going, your subconscious starts throwing in the things it’s been mulling over – and quite frequently it has better ideas!

As I said before, I don’t like the idea of relying on the Muse, or writing every scene without a purpose in mind (and I think a lot of pantsers do more internal outlining than they realise), but there are times when you really don’t know what you’re going to write – and that’s okay. Simply putting your characters together and seeing what comes out might surprise you, and might even turn your whole story upside down, in the best way possible.

This Writing Life: How Not to Write a Novel

I love Pinterest. Perhaps it’s because I have a very visual brain, but I find endless inspiration in all the pretty pictures and beautiful artwork, sparking story ideas left, right and centre. In recent weeks, I’ve also found it to be a surprisingly useful repository of writing advice, sometimes in poster form, and sometimes in full articles hidden behind the pictures. There’s a problem with taking writing advice from the internet, though, particularly from a site that’s as open and lacking in curation as Pinterest. What one user finds enlightening is going to be completely useless for another… And that’s where this post comes in.

You see, whilst browsing Pinterest images today, I came across one titled ‘How to Write a Novel’. I clicked on it, wondering what fresh nugget of inspiration I might find – only to be left dismayed. According to this image, after all, ‘writing a novel’ could be easily summarised in a few bullet points, cheerily arranged on a brightly coloured poster; not only was it painfully simplistic, but some of it was just plain wrong.

It’s fair to say that everything about this poster rubbed me the wrong way. Some of the ‘advice’, after all, was truly useless, verging on terrible. Don’t use crutch words! (Sure, but that’s a tiny detail to be worrying about when you’re just starting a book, and you won’t know what your crutches are until you’ve written it, anyway.) Do make your dialogue sound natural! (Yeah, great, except that’s MUCH HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS.) Don’t edit the novel whilst writing it, or write without knowing the ending in advance! (If that’s how you write, yes – but plenty of writers don’t work that way, and are happy with their process regardless.)

Okay, if I’m honest, the real problem with this poster wasn’t the advice itself, or its terrible English (always encouraging, given the subject). The problem, really, is with the prescriptive nature of advice like this. Not only is it impossible to break the process of writing a novel into such simple steps (write several drafts, then proofread when you’re done is the last one – so casual, as if that might not take you anywhere from a month to a decade), but it’s also impossible to so clearly define that process in a single way. Every writer works differently, and by that I mean really, REALLY differently, sometimes even from one book to the next. A few bullet points on a poster isn’t going to change that.

But this advice is aimed at new writers, you might say. In actual fact, I think that’s worse. Implying there’s One True Way to write a novel is singularly unhelpful for anyone coming to writing for the first time. There are enough worries and insecurities in being a new writer without being told you’re Doing It Wrong. And I know this might sound hypocritical of me, being someone who frequently gives out writing advice on the internet, but here’s the one thing I always come back to: everything I suggest is subjective, and it won’t work for everyone. This is simply my experience, learned by trial and error, by making endless mistakes, and by listening to – but not always heeding – the words of people who’ve been doing this longer than I have.

If you are a new writer, worrying about how to tackle your first book, here’s my biggest piece of advice. In the words of a well-known sports brand, Just Do It. Start writing, make mistakes, and learn from them. Every piece of advice you’re ever given (including this one)? Consider whether it could work for you, but don’t treat it as gospel. Every writer needs to find their own path, be that the same as their idol’s or radically different to everything that’s come before. There’s no easy road map to becoming a writer, even to writing a single story, no matter what posters on Pinterest might try to tell you – and whilst that sounds kinda scary, it’s ultimately liberating. Go out there, do your own thing, and remember: there’s no-one who knows your writing process better than you.

This Writing Life: Should You Stick to One Series at Once?

I’ve titled this post with a question, and before I begin, I’m going to be completely honest: I’m not sure it’s a question I can answer. This, you see, is a topic I’m currently wrestling with, and all I can do is summarise my train of thought, with the pros and cons that have occurred to me. And really, there are both, whether you choose to write a single series from start to finish, or jump about between books.

A little background: I currently have one unfinished series, with two books published, a prequel available to my newsletter subscribers, and another novel on the way. It’s a series that’s very dear to my heart, and I intend to write at least a couple more books (and I have tentative ideas for more after that). The problem is, I’m something of a magpie brain when it comes to writing — whilst I’m usually able to get to the end of a first draft without being distracted, as soon as that’s done, I want to be off and working on the new shiny thing, which isn’t usually the next book in the series, at least not right away.

What’s the problem with that? From a writing perspective, there isn’t one. You might struggle to get back into a story’s world when you return to it, having written something else in between, but the same can be said of taking time off to edit, or having a writing break for another reason. I tend to find instead that jumping around between projects give me a fresh sense of enthusiasm when I return to one, as I’ve had time to develop exciting new ideas and view previous books in a more balanced light. No, the cons, in this case, come from the publishing side.

Conventional wisdom, you see, suggests that it’s easiest to gain an audience (whether you’re self- or traditionally published) by a) writing a series, and b) producing the books in that series at regular intervals. There are plenty of exceptions to that rule, of course — George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you — but it’s wisdom that holds true for the majority of writers. That means taking the time to write other books is suddenly off the agenda, particularly if you’re a slow writer, because it’s more important to continue the series you’re already in the middle of.

But oh, the lure of the new shiny story…! And so the circle goes. This is exactly why I don’t have any answers: because every time I come to start a new book, I go through this same dance. I want to write this new idea I’ve just come up with! Ah, but it’s about time I published a book in my current series — except it’s just not as exciting

Well, okay, it turns out I do have something of an answer, and it goes like this: do the work. For me, writing first drafts is easy. Editing is harder, and committing to a single series is harder still. Wherever you are in your writing career, though, sitting down and working every day (or at least on a regular schedule) is the most important thing. For new writers, that might mean hammering away until they finish their first book. For me, doing the work means making sure I keep up with at least one series — and if there’s time to write something else, that’s fine, but what I’ve started has to come first.

Sometimes, that just isn’t what you want to hear. It’s quite frequently not what I want to hear, which is exactly why I wrote this post. We all have to remind ourselves, from time to time, that commitments have to come before distractions; that whilst writing what you love is important, there’s a reason you started that series, or book, or short story in the first place, and that’s probably got more to do with love than the idea you only came up with two days ago. Whether we have waiting readers or not, we have to stay true to our own vision of what we’re creating — and if that’s a series, then we owe it to ourselves, as much as anyone, to do the work and finish what we’ve started.

This Writing Life: Writing Every Day… Or Not

I’ve long been a proponent of writing regularly, of keeping a schedule no matter how busy the rest of your life might be. Maybe that’s writing every weekday, or every weekend; maybe that’s just one night a week, jealously guarded. In any case, having that routine allows you to write reliably and steadily, to set deadlines, and – importantly – to finish things. However, in the past I’ve also accompanied a regular schedule of production with time off, anything from a day or two each week to longer periods, time to think and relax and sort of breathe, away from whatever I’m working on.

This year, though… This year, I decided to try something different.

Starting on the very first of January 2015, I set myself the goal of writing 1000 words a day, every single day of the year. For someone who was also running a new business, keeping animals and attempting to have just a little bit of a life, it was an extraordinary target – but, for the most part, I’ve succeeded. Between the start of the year and the middle of October, I wrote every single day bar one, and whilst on many occasions I didn’t reach that 1k, my overall word count ultimately averaged out at my goal.

It has, without a doubt, been incredibly hard, but also incredibly rewarding. Producing so many words over the course of 10 months or so has been not only a boost to the number of books I’ve been able to self-publish, but also very exhilarating. There’s nothing quite like writing, and writing at speed, to make me feel endlessly satisfied; that abundant productivity and creativity is thrilling like nothing else (well, without leaving the comfort of your desk, anyway!).

You might have noticed, though, I mentioned ‘the middle of October’ above. That’s because, in the last week, I’ve made the decision to drop my daily target altogether – in fact, for the last couple of days, I haven’t written anything at all. (Funnily enough, what I expected to be a liberating decision is one I’ve barely noticed, simply because I’ve been busy with other things; and, perhaps, because writing is never far from my mind, even when my fingers aren’t on the keyboard). So, what happened?

Well, for a start, that daily writing schedule, and particularly pushing for 1000 words each time, was frequently disruptive to everything else in my creative life. For months, I’ve ignored social media, this blog, promoting my books, and all sorts of other miscellanea. For a long time, that didn’t particularly bother me, as I felt it was a sacrifice worth making, and I might have gone on almost indefinitely; in the end, it was two other factors that forced my hand.

One was, quite literally, my hand. I’ve suffered from RSI in my right hand, wrist and arm for years, and whilst the general routine of writing every day didn’t seem to exacerbate it, recent stints of concentrated editing seem to have been particularly damaging. Secondly, that editing was a problem: trying to edit multiple books, alongside writing 1000 words a day, has been more of a challenge than anything else I’ve attempted this year. In the end, I knew I needed to edit in order to meet my publishing deadlines, but that meant I frequently fell behind with my word counts, and knowing I wasn’t able to claw my way back to my goal was more disheartening than helpful.

So, I’ve dropped the schedule, but I’d still say it’s been worth it, as an experiment if nothing else. I think I really just wanted to prove to myself that I could do something like this – and I have. Whilst I would, in a perfect world, have kept up my goals until the end of the year, I still feel an amazing sense of accomplishment over how much I did achieve, and I’ve been pleased to find just how much writing time I can tease out of a day, every day, even when I feel otherwise overwhelmed.

As I said, then, an experiment, and a successful one, even if ended a little early. In future, I’ll still aim to write far more days than not, and to keep up a schedule whenever possible – but also, for my health and my sanity, I’ll remember to take days off now and again, that editing is just as important as writing, and that, when I want to, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

This Writing Life: The Perils of Writing a Series

Last night, I went to see the new Avengers film, Age of Ultron. It was a decent film, fast-paced and quite funny, but it got me thinking about stories told over a series and the perils inherent in that. The Avengers, after all, is the latest installment in Marvel’s series which now spans something like eight films with more on the way (a rough guess, because I haven’t actually counted them up properly!). Long-running franchises are nothing new in Hollywood, but perhaps where Marvel’s work is different is the way each film both stands alone and interconnects with everything that’s come before.

It’s a great idea, and obviously it’s been very successful, so what about those perils I mentioned earlier? In Age of Ultron specifically, I felt that Marvel’s franchise was beginning to groan under the weight of its own complexity. There were an awful lot of returning characters, and a lot of new ones to introduce – between the two, it sometimes felt like there wasn’t much room for a separate plot. Additionally, I can’t help feeling a new watcher would be completely lost at this point – if you haven’t watched every film in the series, Age of Ultron probably isn’t going to make a lot of sense (or, at the very least, you’re going to miss a lot of the nuances).

These same perils are very much on my mind at the moment, as I’ve just written the second in my Wayfarer Chronicles, and just started the second book in the Flight of the Lady Firene series. The latter will largely stand alone from the first book; the former, on the other hand, is much more a continuation of what came before. Deciding just how much background to include is a difficult line to tread. Do I fill in the reader on what came before and risk boring them? Or do I assume they’ve read – and, more crucially, remembered – the first book?

Like many writing topics, this is one of those things that comes down to the individual project. Some long-running series are so intertwined that you simply couldn’t start anywhere but the beginning (Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire, for example). Others provide multiple points of entry for the new reader, and can even be read in any order. There are even tactics somewhere between the two, as with the works of fantasy author Terry Brooks: he’s written multiple trilogies, all set in the same world, in which the books within the trilogies have to be read in order, but the trilogies themselves largely stand alone.

In the end, the possibilities for writing a series are both endless and a little bit terrifying. I’m sure there are many more perils I’ve yet to fully encounter (losing track of what’s come before, for one, and perhaps simply getting bored of writing the same characters for so long!), but for now I’m looking forward to adding depth to my already created worlds, to continuing stories where there’s more to tell, and writing characters that feel so real to me I’m almost dictating their words, not making them up as I go along!

This Writing Life: Learning Your Daily Rhythms

I’m aware, as I start to write this post, that the title above sounds rather woolly. ‘Daily rhythms’ sounds like it should have something to do with yoga, or fitness, or even digestive health! However, the more times my writing schedule suffers an upheaval, the more I realise that there are certain rhythms to the writing day, and that taking advantage of them can increase your productivity quicker than any other method.

Back when I had a job with set working hours, I also had a strictly defined writing schedule. I’d get up every day (or every weekday, anyway), have a coffee and set to work. I’d usually aim for 2000 words a day, which would take most of the morning and possibly spill into early afternoon. After lunch, I’d maybe do some editing, or write a blog post, or simply take time off – and after that, I went to my ‘day-job’.

And then came self-employment, with all its concomitant pleasures and pitfalls. These days, I can have anything between zero and ten hours of ‘day-job’ work to accomplish in the course of a day, seven days a week. There’s not always a set pattern to this, either, which means some early starts and long days, and some lazy days where I might just do some baking or laundry. Around all this, I have to fit in my writing.

For months, I struggled to find not the time, but the motivation. When you’ve been on your feet for eight hours and finally sit down at the computer, the last thing you want to do is write, even if it’s only 3 in the afternoon. I’d frequently find whole afternoons and evenings wasted, as I simply couldn’t find the energy to commit words to screen, and whilst I got a lot of reading done instead, my word counts were nowhere near where I wanted them to be.

Eventually, though, I came to a realisation. The number of hours I’d already worked in a day was irrelevant; what mattered was when I tried to write.

My preference, still, is to write first thing in a morning, and I do this when I can. However, on busier days, I’ve also found I have something of a ‘second wind’ from about 6pm, when I find my concentration much improved (possibly because, by 6, I’ve usually eaten my evening meal and so have a lot more energy). Trying to write in that afternoon free-time, around 3pm, has turned out to be almost pointless. No matter what I’ve spent the rest of the day doing, I’m nearly always tired and lacking in concentration, which means I usually turn to reading instead.

That little switch – from trying to write at 3pm to actually writing at 6 – made a huge difference to me. Suddenly, I was able to sit down at the computer and start writing straight away, rather than wasting time on the internet for half an hour before giving up entirely. Working out when you have the most energy and the best creative concentration is absolutely vital for anyone who’s trying to fit writing around a busy work life – it’s the most consistent way I know to increase your word counts without feeling like you’re pulling teeth!

This Writing Life: Here Comes NaNoWriMo!

It’s been, amazingly, a full month since I last posted on the blog. October seems to have been the month that got away: I’ve been busy with day-job stuff, more home improvements, writing, gaming and even spending time with friends. Not much opportunity for blogging, in other words! It hasn’t escaped my notice, though, that with October nearly over, November is upon us – which means only one thing. NaNoWriMo!

In my last post, I mentioned I was thinking of taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, for the third time. Since then, I’ve been um-ing and ah-ing over whether that’s really a good idea. I could certainly do with getting 50k words of a new novel down, but I’m also insanely busy. Maybe, I kept thinking, I should stick to a smaller daily word count. Maybe I’m just too busy for NaNo this year.

And then I realised that perhaps I could do with the challenge. I’ve managed around 150k words this year, which isn’t bad, but I don’t really feel like I’ve pushed myself as much as I could have. Additionally, my previous two attempts at NaNoWriMo were both successful, but under pretty relaxed circumstances. In both cases, I had plenty of time, and that 1667 words a day target wasn’t particularly onerous. This year… I have a feeling that won’t be the case.

But isn’t that the whole point of NaNoWriMo? Pushing yourself to write more than usual whilst life carries on around you – the day job, the kids, the family, your hobbies (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NaNo takes place in November, either, which carries the twin pressures of Thanksgiving and being close to Christmas for the US). It’s when you’re pretty sure you don’t have time to write that NaNoWriMo is so valuable, providing an incentive and a network of support to push you to greater lengths of productivity.

In the past, 50k words in a month was no great challenge for me. This year, I think it’s going to be a monumental struggle – and that’s exactly why I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo. There’s every chance this’ll be the first year I don’t ‘win’, but writing anything at all will be a victory this year. Who’s with me?!

This Writing Life: Writer Problems

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably noticed by now that there are some strange facets of the writing life that, to outside eyes, don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try to describe them to a non-writer and you’ll generally get a blank look, whilst writer’s partners will probably groan in exasperation, if not exactly understanding. In fact, the only other people who do understand are other writers – here are a few of my examples:

You lose the ability to speak. You spend all your time putting words together, crafting perfect sentences and making your thoughts flow onto the page, hopefully in a coherent fashion (on a good day, anyway). And yet, when you step away from the computer and try to hold an actual conversation with an actual real life person… Something goes a bit wrong. Words, sometimes whole sentences, elude you. You start speaking, only to trail off halfway, distracted by some recalcitrant plot point or ornery character. Alternatively, you manage a sentence, only to realise it didn’t make the slightest bit of sense; somewhere between your brain and your mouth, everything got jumbled into random words, which your poor partner/family member/friend is left to ponder. At which point, you wonder if you should just commit all conversations to print instead, and cut out the incoherent mumbling and blank looks from acquaintances.

You’d rather spend time with your characters than your friends. Speaking of ‘real life people’, spending time with them is all well and good, but sometimes they’re just not as… interesting as the ones in your head. You love your friends and family, of course, but there comes a time when, instead of seeing them, you start making excuses. And the more creative and elaborate those excuses? The more you know you’ve got the writing bug!

Procrastination. You’ve made your excuses, fobbed off the family, and have a whole day to yourself. Free, uninterrupted writing time. Bliss! So you sit down at your computer, open your word processor, and… decide you’d better have a look at Twitter first. Okay, that’s done, back to writing… except when did you last check your email? Right, that’s done, writing time… but maybe you should put a load of laundry on, and tidy up the kitchen, and isn’t it about time for another cup of tea…? The strange thing is, no matter how much you love writing, adore writing, live and breathe it, when it actually comes to writing, somehow there’s always something else to do.

Word choice is IMPORTANT. You’ve finally got to work. The words are flowing, the story is coming together, the characters are really speaking to you, until – what’s that word you’re looking for? This is yet another problem non-writers won’t understand. There is, for every circumstance, that perfect word, the one that just absolutely expresses what you want to say. You know it’s out there, you know that you know it, it’s just on the tip of your tongue… but it won’t come. And if you ask someone else, a non-writer, for advice? They’ll tell you your placeholder word is fine, it makes sense, it’ll do… When you know very well it’s not quite right, and you can’t keep writing until you find the word that is.

Maybe, at this point, you’re shaking your head and wondering what drugs I’ve been taking. Or… maybe you’re vigorously nodding in agreement – in which case, welcome to the club! The crazy world of writer problems might seem incomprehensible to the outside observer, but rest assured, some of us do understand – although that doesn’t necessarily mean we have any idea how to fix them!

This Writing Life: Writing Through Chaos

It’s fair to say that my life has been fairly turbulent recently. First there was quitting my job, then moving house, then renovating said house and opening a B&B. For a while, I thought I’d be able to keep writing consistently, just as I have done for the past few years, with an aim of at least 200,000 words a year across multiples novels, novellas and short stories. I had good intentions, in other words, but when your life turns upside down, it’s difficult to stick to them.

Today, then, I want to share a few of the tips and habits I’ve learnt for trying to combine writing with every other aspect of a chaotic life. First of all, I’ve discovered it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. I spent weeks agonising over not getting enough words down, whilst trying to manage a burgeoning business and not go completely insane in the process. In the end, I realised all my stress about word counts and time spent in front of the PC wasn’t getting me anywhere – I was worrying about writing instead of actually doing it. At the moment, then, I’m cutting myself some slack and only aiming for 500 words a day (still 180,000+ words over the course of a year, I was amazed to work out). As I tend to plan several scenes (at least) in advance, I can easily hammer out that number of words in 20-30 minutes, meaning I’m both making slow, steady progress, and not beating myself up over missing my targets.

However, that 500 words a day is only my target for now. Life comes in fits and starts; sometimes you can predict them and sometimes you can’t. I know in advance that my winters are likely to be far quieter business-wise than my summers (which comes with the tourism territory, in the UK at least), which means I’m already planning to take part in NaNoWriMo and, if I can, write an entire novel between November and, say, February of next year. There might also come lulls I didn’t anticipate, though, such as weekends with fewer guests than usual, or cancellations. Whilst it can be a bit of a shock to the system to change plans at short notice, I’ll need to be able to take advantage of these breaks and put them to good writing use.

Tangentially related to my first point, there are also times when I have to acknowledge I just can’t write. Maybe because I’m exhausted, maybe because I can’t get more than five straight minutes at the keyboard. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t fit in something writing-related. Time spent waiting for guests to arrive can easily be spent reading, for example, whilst even when I’m scrubbing bathrooms, I can be musing on plot points and world-building. Again, this is all about taking advantage of your time however you can, although it does sometimes require a fair amount of mental gymnastics.

I’m not going to tell you to write in every spare minute, or give up every other hobby so you can produce more words. Plenty of writers do both, of course, but I find that kind of single-minded focus can be counter-productive and, frankly, exhausting. I want my writing time to be enjoyable, something I look forward to (because when it’s not, I think that really shows in the work), and fitting it naturally into the rest of my day is the best way to achieve that. However, by making the most of my time, by being prepared to write at the drop of a hat, and by setting myself small, realistic word count goals, I’ve found I can keep writing even when the rest of my life has exploded around me. I hope you can too.

This Writing Life: Setting the Tone in World-Building

I’ve been posting these Writing Life entries for some time now, and they typically reflect whichever stage of the writing process I’m currently at. However, my topics are nearly always something related to actually writing or editing – the early stages of planning novels and creating worlds I tend to keep to myself. Why? I suppose, in the past, there’s been a little part of me that’s worried about people ‘stealing my ideas’ – which is patently ridiculous, but is one of those little foibles all writers go through at one stage or another. I’m also aware that my process for world-building and starting novels is a) completely unsystematic, and b) different every time I do it.

Still, I’ll soon be writing the first draft of a new novel in an entirely new world, so I wanted to talk about how I got started with its creation. For me, concrete research comes later: at this stage, I’m focused entirely on developing the tone of my world in very broad strokes. That might include what rough, real-world time period the world will be based on; whether the setting is analogous to a real-world country or region; what the magic system might comprise in very general terms; whether the story will delve into the religion, or politics, or economy of the world I’m creating (I may well develop all three, but that doesn’t mean the plot will ever touch on them).

Now, it’s virtually impossible for me to start developing a novel with no idea of setting at all. The world, or at least some vague conception of it, usually comes to me before character, plot, or anything else. This stage of my world-building, then, involves taking that ‘vague conception’ and turning it into something concrete enough that I can start researching specifics. There are two main aspects to this: lots of notes, and lots of pictures.

The former means scribbling down every idea that occurs to me, no matter how ridiculous. Ideas for character, for plot, for details of the world – at this stage, all go down together, and each concept tends to strengthen others (deciding a character is going to use a certain type of magic means I have to find a place for that magic in my world, for example; and yes, character does often force the world in a certain direction at this point).

As I mentioned above, I often have a real-world time period or region in mind when pulling together my very early world-building ideas, and this is where pictures come in. A quick Google search will instantly give me images to help set the tone of my world. My latest novel, for example, started life with a sort of faux-Medieval Spain, so searching for images associated with ‘Medieval Spain’ instantly gives my world grounding. Will the finished setting be anything like the real Medieval Spain? Probably not, but at this point I’m just feeding my brain, giving it related information from which it can start building all the really juicy details.

As I write this post, I realise how hazy this process sounds (and why I haven’t blogged about it before!). It is hazy, even for me, but the key concept is simply this: gathering together as many inspirations as possible, then letting them swirl around together until more concrete ideas emerge. Additionally, it’s important not to discount anything at this stage. Trying to force your story and world in a certain direction can easily turn them into something stale and probably something you’ve seen done before, whilst letting your subconscious throw up ideas that feel completely disconnected can sometimes lead your story down avenues you’d never have considered otherwise.