Stumbling Blocks

This week, we have our main episode, and we are discussing stumbling blocks. That’s right, the times where no matter how hard you try, it seems impossible to break through, especially in those early chapters. Listen in to find out about our personal struggles, why we think they exist, and what we do about them.

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Sarah: Hi everyone, welcome back to Dear Writer, today we are recording episode 16, which is very exciting. Welcome to anyone who’s new listening and welcome to returning listeners.

Ashley: Hey everyone! How’s your past few weeks been Sarah?

Sarah: It has been a bit of a strange few past weeks. I’ve just been having a bit of a holiday at home of sorts.

Ashley: Right.

Sarah: Because, obviously we can’t, it’s not really suggested where we are at the moment to go anywhere.

Ashley: That makes sense.

Sarah: Not that we’re having like an actual holiday, but I just have been taking it slow because yeah. I’ve just felt a bit burned out with the writing as well.

Ashley: That makes sense. I get that.

Sarah: But, yeah. A lot going on in the personal life as well, so I haven’t really done very much. I think, from last time I may have finished a chapter? I can’t remember if last time I had already finished that chapter or not, but I haven’t really done anything, since then. I did start, briefly start, a new chapter that was like further on. It’s one of the things cowriting I guess is, sometimes you’re like oh I don’t know if I should start next chapter until I have a bit more information.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: But yeah I did start one that was a little bit further on, because it didn’t really have a bearing on the ones that Ashley was writing so, yeah. How has your writing been going Ashley?

Ashley: Well I’ve also been on holiday. But we’re fortunate that we’re allowed to travel within New Zealand wherever we want, so I went down to the South Island for ten days with my husband and my parents and my mother-in-law, we had a wonderful time. We were camping mostly, or staying in little cabins, and was actually a kind of surreal experience. Mostly because usually this time of year in the South Island it is packed with tourists, and you have to usually book accommodation and activities and whatnot a few months in advance, at least before Christmas. But with no tourists, it felt a bit like a ghost town. We’d go to campgrounds and we’d be the only people there, we went to we went to Hamner Springs, which was quite cool. There may have been, including us, twenty people in total?

Sarah: Wow.

Ashley: Yeah, they like twenty hotpools, so.

Sarah: Hotpool per party.

Ashley: Like actually, yes. Occasionally, we were like oh there’s someone in that pool. Maybe we’ll go to it later. So yeah it was it was good, but it also was, you know it’s nice to get a break from writing and from work. Which I’d been struggling to do. I’d taken a few days off here and there, but it’s not really the same when, you know, usually I go overseas or whatever. Hadn’t really been the same just being at home, so it was nice to actually get away properly.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: It did, it did make me feel a lot more creative and more excited to get back to writing, which was good. So apart from those ten days on holiday I did beta read Sarah’s book, which was good. I read it in my tent by torchlight. It was, because it’s a thriller, on a couple of occasions, I would go out to you know hike to the bathroom. So I was like, oh my gosh is following me? Bit nervous.

Sarah: I didn’t really was that kind of thriller, but I guess, some parts of it…

Ashley: Oh, I just get nervous. I’m very… I’m not very good with anything kind of scary, so that was amusing.

Sarah: Well I’m glad I managed to provoke that much reaction, then.

Ashley: Yeah. What else? Last time I think I hadn’t quite finished, one of my chapters, so I finished that one and I have started another one. I’m almost 1500 words through, which is good, making progress. It’s a bit of a strange one, because I didn’t cover all of the plot points I needed to hit in the chapter before, so now I’m having to try and squeeze a lot of things into this chapter, so might end up being a little bit long. Probably closer to 4000 words. But I don’t think that’s too much of a problem. I’m quite excited to, to finish it and move on to some… well a different character again. Because I think I’m up to my other character next, should be good. Bit of a change.

Sarah: Well it’s nice that we’ve both had a bit of a break and yeah, ready to get back into it. Ashley I can see—you guys can’t—but she’s come back with a wonderful tan. So clearly there was a lot of nice sunshine as well, on your, your break.

Ashley: Yeah. I think we only had one day that was cloudy and that was unsurprisingly on the west coast.

Sarah: Oh wow. Yeah unsurprisingly. The west coast of rain.

Ashley: Mm hmm. Otherwise, we were on the west coast for two days, and one of the days it looked like a tropical island. It was so sunny, there wasn’t a ripple in the ocean. I was like, what’s up? Everyone says it’s wild west coast, always raining. One of the towns is called Greymouth, which will probably indicate a little bit about what the weather’s like down there. We get there, so sunny, not a ripple in the ocean. And we’re like mmm. And then I was like, I could live here. James is like, this is probably the one day in the year it’s sunny. And then I was like that’s probably accurate.

Sarah: It reminds me when we were kids and we went to Wellington, and it was ridiculously hot and sunny. And my parents were like, this isn’t what it’s usually like.

Ashley: Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not usually like this.

Sarah: 35 degrees.

Ashley: Oh my gosh, no. Wellington was cold and windy when we were down there, because we drove and then took the ferry.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s what it’s usually like.

Ashley: I’ve never been on a sun—on a non-windy, warm day. Learned my lesson.

Sarah: Well, here in Calgary with been enjoying temperatures of minus 30 instead of positive 30, so it’s been very cold. Like you go outside just for five minutes and your face is freezing off. I haven’t even wanted to walk out the door to get in the mail at the corner of the block because it’s too far. And I told Dan and he was like, yeah you should have maybe taken your car. And I said, my car? For like five meters down the road? But yes, I mean like I’ve… I’ve been living here for coming up, I think three years now, so it’s not really that much of a surprise, but at the same time, every time it gets that cold, you just think oh yeah.

Ashley: This is a thing.

Sarah: That’s right.

Ashley: I’ve never been… I don’t think I’m suited to the cold, I’ve decided. I was born there but I’ve just… it’s not, it’s not my thing cold. I’m definitely a warm weather person, for sure.

Sarah: I cope pretty well, but… mmm. Anyways we should probably get into this.

Ashley: Yes.

Sarah: Already going off on tangents.

Ashley: So today’s main discussion is about the difficulties and stumbling blocks we encounter when we write novels. So what we find the most challenging when writing a novel. So we all know that when you start writing a book, the beginning is pretty much the most important part to write, because it is your first chance—and some would say your only chance, I think—to hook readers and get them to continue into the story that you’ve created. And consequently, a lot rides on these opening chapters. And often people start off quite enthusiastic when they’re writing because you’ve got quite a good idea. Sometimes I think people, you can think of the hook at the start, like oh yes, this is going to be really great, start my book, but then, as you start writing that enthusiasm dissipates quite quickly. And a lot of people, sometimes, after that very first start can find chapter one quite challenging. Especially because it has to cover so many things as well, so that will bring me to my first question, do we struggle writing chapter one?

Sarah: I usually don’t have too much of an issue writing chapter one. I think, mainly because I recognize that we’re going to come back to it anyways. And so I’m not super fussy about oh, the opening sentence has to be absolutely perfect, the opening paragraph has to really draw people in. Like I will consciously try and leave a bit of mystery in the opening part, but then, a lot of it I’ll come back once… I feel like it’s a really important one to come back to, because once you’ve got the rest of the book down it’s easier to look back on something and kind of set it up for hooking in with the rest of the story. If that makes any sense, so I don’t get too concerned about that. I, and also, I do find that I’m really excited and I have the idea for it.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: So chapter one for me isn’t too bad, and I generally don’t get too stuck on that. But we’ll discuss my sticking points a bit later. How about you Ashley?

Ashley: I think it’s a bit of both for me, I often find them a little bit challenging. However, in saying that the ones that I have written, I feel, have been quite strong, in the end. But I do spend a lot of time agonizing over them, I think. Not usually on the first pass through, but the second pass through, so…

Sarah: I’m the same actually with, with that. Like, in saying that, the editing, when I do go back and edit it, then I’m like, oh gosh how do I make this… like, nail it?

Ashley: So you just have to look at the redos of the first chapters of our three teen fiction books and how many times we’ve been over and over and over them. They didn’t take long to write at first, but then obviously some we ended up writing a new chapter one. Or both of them actually, the first two.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: One we wrote in a new chapter one, and the other we pretty much rewrote the first chapter again anyways because we decided it wasn’t strong enough.

Sarah: Or just a bit disconnected from the last book.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: I think was the problem with the second one.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: It was kinda weird, because I felt like you didn’t really need to start off directly after what happened from the last book? But I guess because we sort of left the last book on a cliffhanger that I think the readers felt dissatisfied without a complete resolution to that cliff—like it did resolve, but I think they wanted to see the whole resolution, whereas we didn’t—

Ashley: Yeah, I think so.

Sarah: —sort of have that, until we rewrote that first part of that second book, so I guess that’s a, a tip for people. If you’re gonna have cliffhanger, you better make sure you follow through with the second book.

Ashley: Resolve—yeah. It was also that original chapter one was really long, and if we had wanted to flashback or explain what had happened, it would have, I think it was 6000 words originally. It would have pushed it way too far. So we ended up putting in a new chapter one.

Sarah: Can you imagine a chapter one of like 10,000 words or something?

Ashley: Oh, my goodness.

Sarah: You’d be like, what’s sort of book am I reading? Anyways.

Ashley: Yeah, ah what was I gonna say? Okay, so I also feel chapter ones can be quite difficult because it’s the chapter where you really want to have a strong handle of the voice of your character, especially when we’re doing it first person, but it’s also the first time you’ve written in the voice of that character, so I find sometimes it’s hard to quite get it right and find the voice. Which I guess is why we often go back to it and agonize over it later. Because in later chapters you’ve written that character quite a bit, you can go back and write it, I guess, better.

Sarah: Yeah. I would agree with that. I think finding the voice is accounts for a lot of issues in those early chapters.

Ashley: Yeah. Even in our sequels and things for the teen fiction I… it’s… Even though we’ve written a whole book from their perspective, for some reason when you come to a new one that takes a minute to find it again as well, like get into the groove of things.

Sarah: Who are you again? Okay, yes that’s right. I had that just the other day, when I just had to edit a small, a very small part of Price of Pandemonium and I was like, where is Lizzie’s head at the moment again? Oh yes that’s right. This is what she’s thinking. But it took a second, and it was really strange, especially after writing first person well, not even… even writing third person for our current book, it was really strange to go back to her character.

Ashley: You’re like, who is Lizzie?

Sarah: I guess it… talking about voice and issues kind of also follows on into the next question about other chapters that you might have issue with.

Ashley: Yeah so I guess you put in a lot of effort into chapter one, but it’s not the most important. Like, it’s the most important chapter, but the ones, the subsequent chapters, are also almost equally as important. Because once you’ve hooked them, you have to keep them engaged and hope that you can entice them enough to make them finish the book. So, not only does your chapter one have to be really strong, the chapters that follow it also have to be quite strong. So after chapter one is there another chapter where you struggle a little bit or you lose your momentum and get a bit stuck?

Sarah: For me, I have a very definitive point where I get a bit stuck and it feels like every word is a struggle, and that is chapter three. It doesn’t matter whether I’m writing by myself. If I’m writing a book by myself, then it’s always chapter three. If I’m writing a book with Ashley, then it’ll be whatever my third chapter is. So, for example in Darkness, Set Us Free it was, I think, chapter seven was my third chapter and that one had clear issues, right from the beginning. I mean it didn’t help that it was a new character as well.

Ashley: I was gonna say, is that Tamati’s chapter?

Sarah: Yes. But, yeah. So we did the edits for it, Ashley couldn’t quite get a groove for that chapter either and fix what was wrong with it, I had already gone over it. And then we sent it to our beta reader, to Ashley’s husband James, and he was like I really like this character, but this chapter’s a bit weird. And I was like, well that’s not surprising, he picked up on that chapter.

Ashley: It’s the only… I never even mentioned anything about it and he’s just like, this chapter. I was like, oh no. Is it that obvious?

Sarah: It’s always that chapter, and yeah. I think for me at least, it’s because in the first few chapters there’s all this action going on, usually you have like your inciting incident usually within the first few chapters, and then it’s usually about chapter three or chapter four, that things calm down a little bit and your character has to stop and think about the repercussions of what has just happened. So it’s that point, that you go a little bit deeper with the character and into their mindset. And unless you have a real handle on who that character is when you slow the pace down a bit and it’s not sort of surface of this happening, that happening, that happening, then I think it can get really hard to find a groove and mine all end up either too much like introspective that doesn’t really connect with the character. Like it’ll be introspective and deep into their brain, but then at the same time it doesn’t really feel like the character, especially when you read other chapters, you’re like, well this doesn’t really match. What is going on with this character at this point? But also, when I was doing a little bit of research for this podcast I had a look to see if anyone else had similar issues with their chapter three or early beginning chapters and sort of just going over a few threads was the main sort of thing I did just to see people’s experiences and how they felt it was for them. And people do seem to have an issue in the early chapters, whether it be chapter one, chapter two, three, four. But the advice they were given on these threads I didn’t think was particularly useful. And I don’t think it really nailed why people have issues. Some of them talked about not planning enough and I think that can be an issue and, probably, I think you had something you wanted to say about that. Or no, you had something about the opposite, of over-planning. Right Ashley?

Ashley: Yeah, I think. Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. And some people over plan, but I still don’t really feel like that’s really the root of the issue, and it will suggest it on one that it was because of boredom. You’re so excited about the first chapters and then you just get bored. And I was like, I don’t think it’s boredom. If you’re committed enough to sit down and keep trying at these chapters I don’t really think that you’re necessarily bored by it.

Ashley: Yeah. Like there’s something else going on.

Sarah: Yeah and I think it’s a fear based thing.

Ashley: Okay.

Sarah: That, you’re sitting down, you’ve got some still the majority of the book ahead of you, and that initial honeymoon excitement has kind of waned. And then you’re like oh, my goodness. I have, however many thousand words still left before I can call this a novel. And because you were excited about the start, and you’re thinking, you’ve got all these plans for it. Like, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to finish this novel and then, you know, everything’s gonna be great. And then suddenly it dawns on you, you’ve actually got to write it.

Ashley: Yeah. You’re like, uh-oh.

Sarah: So I think like it can be a bit overwhelming at the start. And for me a solution to that would be to stop looking at the word count so much because that’s kind of what I tend to do. Mainly because we try and keep our wordcounts around a similar amount per chapter, because you don’t—not that we will force the chapter into a specified word count, like we’ll let it sort of drift either side—but we try and keep an eye on it just so that they’re roughly similar.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. But then also, when you start counting wordcount, then you start thinking about like the proportion left and how much you’ve already done, and so I think if you start thinking in that way and paying too much attention to it, then that can kind of get in your way a bit. What do you think Ashley?

Ashley: I ah, yeah. I think I agree, especially with the whole idea of realizing that you have so much of the book still to go and even though you’ve made great progress in these first couple chapters, most of it still lies in front of you, which can be quite intimidating. I been feeling that way a little bit with our ancient Greece book because it’s so much longer.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Like, I’m at chapter nine, and then I’ll be like, another thirty chapters to go, oh my goodness. So I definitely can understand, I think I understand that. Def… yeah. For me it’s not… I don’t have a specific chapter that I find difficult. It probably comes around chapter four or five for me. It’s I think because it’s usually when I start getting into the second or third chapters of the, you know, multi perspective characters. Because, for the first chapter of them are often I find similar to chapter one. Because it’s the first time it’s from their perspective.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: So it’s very, for me it’s a very similar way of writing chapter one. You just often don’t have the big hook at the start of it. So I find them, they’re usually all right. It’s the second chapters for me where I’m kind of like, oh, I really need to make sure I still have the same handle on these characters. But often you don’t put quite the same amount of… I’m gonna go with effort and critique into the second ones, and you do with the very first one. Where you’re like, I’ve gotta nail it, I’ve gotta make sure, you know, the readers can really see this character’s different from all the others and they’ve got a really strong voice. And then by the time you get to the second one you’re a bit like, phew, finally got through all of those. And then the second chapter I find a bit harder to keep that level of intensity up. And then, when you get into further chapters, you have a really good handle on the voice so it comes more, naturally, I think.

Sarah: Yeah I think with that first one, it’s very purposeful the voice that you’re creating. You’re like, well, it’s not your voice and you’re finding different ways to say things, you’re finding a new perspective on things. And when you come to the second chapter you haven’t quite yet slipped into that automatic, oh I’m… It’s almost like slipping into a character—like, well it is slipping into a character.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: But, it’s almost like acting, you know. When you bring a persona to your writing. But… and the more you do it, the more you can just kind of flip a switch and, and be within that persona. Whereas you get to the second chapter and you’re not quite as purposeful about it, but you yet haven’t quite developed that automatic switch either, to flick. So, you’re in this kind of strange middle space of, who is this person again? And then sometimes if you’re not purposeful about trying to maintain it, then it can come off a bit disjointed from the last chapter.

Ashley: Yeah. And the next ones, because the next ones, usually, I’ve got it by then so it’s natural.

Sarah: Exactly.

Ashley: So I think, I think that’s what I would say, with regards to chapters that I find difficult and kind of why. And, I guess Sarah touched on it before, we tend to… well, I feel we tend to quite extensively plan our first few chapters. But then you can get a bit burnt out, I think, after going… because a lot usually, especially in our books, a lot happens in the first few chapters and then like you said before you get a few chapters in, and then…

Sarah: The pace slows down, yeah.

Ashley: Yeah. They’re dealing with and recovering and coping with all of the intense things that have just happened to them, and yeah, the pace slows and then you’re like okay now we’re really in it, and there’s so much ahead of me.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: We kind of touched on some of the ways to get around the block or issues—sticking points that we have in our respective chapters. Did you have any others that you wanted to add?

Sarah: I do have a couple of things, tricks up my sleeve. So if you’re writing a book by yourself, or even… even for me and Ashley, you know, as I said, I continued on and wrote a different chapter that wasn’t related. You know, you can always if you have planned it out, you can skip ahead and do chapters and sometimes skipping ahead to those more action filled scenes can be useful, because although you’re not… often in those action scenes you’re not diving really deep into the character’s mind, because it’s more of sort of what’s happening around them then necessarily diving deep into their mindset. But then they’ll still make decisions in those chapters, and they’ll still do certain things that will start giving you more of an idea who this character is. So if you go a little bit further, do a few more action scenes, then you might find it easier to fill in the holes later, and go back and do some of those more introspective scenes when you’ve got a bit more substance to the character of like, oh he’s made this decision. That means that maybe he’s a more courageous person or you know, like you start to see from their actions, what type of people they are and yeah. I think just having a bit more handle on the character can help. Um, sorry.

Ashley: I was just going to say, I’ve been doing their sort of… no, I was going to add to that. I’ve been doing something kind of similar recently where… cause I’m still trying to get a handle on our new characters in our ancient Greece book, often I’ll write a section of the chapter that I know what’s going to happen, and then I’ll highlight a bit that says ‘talk about the weather’ or something like that, and then continue on with something else that I know is going to happen next, and then I’ll have like another little bit, you know, they… ‘they get to know each other a little bit, add later’ and then continue. And once I get to the end, you have a bit more of a feel of the characters that are in there, and I go back and add it in, and then polish it up. Which has been helping me quite a bit recently.

Sarah: Yeah. I, I do that too. I put in little underscores, just a gap, and then I’ll continue on. So you can kind of see, oh I’m supposed to add some description or something in here. So that is a handy tool.

Ashley: Yeah.  I think I did it for Thebes, because I had to do so much research for it, I was like, ‘description of Thebes,’ just move on. Otherwise I would’ve been there for like three hours trying to find what it would have looked like, and you lose your train of thought and your handle on the characters that you have like right then. So I’ve been doing that quite a bit.

Sarah: Yeah. Another thing that I find quite helpful, and I find it quite helpful switching between projects as well. Although, I think it can be helpful at any point if you’re stuck, is to highlight everything and change the font. Because I’m a very visual person and sometimes when I see things in the same font, over and over again, my brain just kind of switches off and then it doesn’t want to do anything. But then, if I change the font, it’s like oh! This looks a new and exciting. And it just tricks your brain into sort of seeing it as like a new piece of writing. And then you can kind of continue on. And let’s see another thing that I do—I haven’t really used this as much lately, but sometimes it’s helpful—is just to open an entirely empty document get the bit that you’re stuck at, like a sentence or two before, copy and paste it into the new document and then go from there. Because occasionally seeing too many words distracts me from what I’m actually trying to do. And so, if it’s a blank document it feels a little bit more free to create. Whereas otherwise I’m like trying to squish it all in, and I’m looking at the rest of the words and becoming I guess a bit overwhelmed.

Ashley: I did I did that for… would have been the first Simon chapter. I had a beginning I wasn’t happy with, but I couldn’t figure out what to do, instead, and so I didn’t want to delete it, you know?

Sarah: yeah.

Ashley: So I took a section that I knew I was definitely going to keep, moved over to another document and then wrote an entirely new beginning in front of it, compared them, and decided that my new beginning was way better and then I was happy to delete the old one. Well… because sometimes you see the same thing and you’d like the idea of it but it’s not working.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah.

Ashley: So I realized, I could use some of that later on in the chapter so I moved it and then wrote a new one. And as it’s not as intimidating when you, yeah, have a whole fresh document to use and you’re not deleting stuff.

Sarah: I think that is another thing is that if you realize something’s not working, don’t just delete the block of text like, copy, save it in a new document, and like I write them as… I dunno, ‘chapter 17 attempt one’. And then I leave that document, and then it will be like, ‘chapter 17 attempt two’ and then so, then I can go back through my attempts and, you know, if you need to add something back in or… it’s still there for you and you haven’t totally gotten rid of it so.

Ashley: We’ve done this quiet… for a couple chapters in our teen fiction, because we had the Lizzie/Levi one where we both wrote multiple different versions of the same chapter.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: In Darkness, Set Us Free. And then the same again in The Price of Pandemonium was Lizzie and Dylan’s—maybe it’s a Lizzie thing—with Lizzie and Dylan in the house, we both wrote a few different versions of it, because neither one seemed right and then ended up kind of combining some I think for that one.

Sarah: Oh… yeah I think I kind of know which part you’re talking about?

Ashley: When they’re in the house, and they have the argument.

Sarah: Oh… yeah…

Ashley: And they’ve gone to look for food.

Sarah: Oh yes, that’s right, yeah.

Ashley: Me trying to give very generic clues.

Sarah: Yeah, no.

Ashley: Give the story away.

Sarah: That was funny because… it’s also quite funny doing that because it’s like you come up with this alternate timeline. You feel like you, you know which one is wrong because you feel like you’ve stepped into this strange alternate world. I was like that’s really cute but it’s not really right.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: That was funny.

Ashley: I think we ended up kind of combining our two in the end.

Sarah: Yes, yeah.

Ashley: Yeah, for that one. And I can’t remember what ended up with the Darkness, Set Us Free one.

Sarah: I think, because we’re also trying to chop out words cause that chapter was so long.

Ashley: Oh yeah, yeah. Another long chapter.

Sarah: Another like, 5000 word chapter.

Ashley: I know. I’m comfortable pushing up to four, but once it gets over four it’s… they’re just…

Sarah: Hmm, I think up to five is fine. But I think definitely pass five, I’m like that’s just way too long.

Ashley: We ended up moving a whole section to another chapter didn’t we, and having to rewrite it from another person is it that one? Yes, it was that one.

Sarah: Yes, yeah. That’s the trouble with multiple perspectives you can’t just like push it, and be like oh it’s the same viewpoint next chapter I’ll just push it to the next one, you’re like well this has to be in this person’s perspective. How am I going to fit it in?

Ashley: And it requires a lot of rewriting. It’s strange how much rewriting it actually does require when you switch perspectives because, even if it’s a passage of dialogue, the other character views the dialogue slightly differently.

Sarah: Or inserting chapters as well, you have to be like, well it can’t be this person’s and it can’t be that person’s because their one’s before, and their one’s after it. And it’s probably a little—who would fit in well here? You have to look at all the perspectives and try and balance it out every time you want to add a chapter.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: In the middle that you haven’t planned. So that’s, that’s a challenge, sometimes.

Ashley: It is challenging.

Sarah: Like for the… even for that first chapter of [The] Price of Pandemonium. Trying to decide whose it was, it could be this person’s, or that person’s. It can’t be anyone elses.

Ashley: Limited in choice. I think we made a good choice in the end, though.

Sarah: We did, we did.

Ashley: Picked one that could give an intense account of what’s happening.

Sarah: It definitely threw you into the action.

Ashley: For sure.

Sarah: Okay um.

Ashley: I don’t even know what we were talking about anymore.

Sarah: We were talking about ways to get around…

Ashley: Ah, that’s right. Went a bit off track.

Sarah: Do you have any other ways that you get around?

Ashley: My go to ones are just writing stuff down and forgetting about, like moving on and then coming back to it in the editing. I wasn’t good at this at the start, because I have a drive to write it perfectly the first time, but I am getting better at it now. I kind of just make a mental note of the bits that I know, need to be fixed and often I’ll alert Sarah to them, I’m like, I know this was a problem, it’s not that big of a problem but, it’s not perfect. I’m just gonna leave it until we come to the edits, because I feel it’s one of those things that actually maybe it will end up being fine when we look at it again. Or maybe I’ll have… we’ll both have a bit of a better handle on the character by then, so it’ll be easier, just to fix. So that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to get better at, and I think I am. Often I’ll just be like, oh screw it, I’ll just move on. Otherwise, just letting it lie for a bit. Not necessarily for ages and like forget about the whole chapter, but just stop, go make a tea, do something else for twenty minutes. Come back, reread it, and then sometimes it’s not as bad as I thought it was. You just kind of get it in your head, you know, like. You’re like, would he say that? Would he not say that? Is that how he’d view what this mountain looks like? I don’t know. And then you read it, and you like, oh it doesn’t sound right, it sounds really weird, I don’t like it. And you go back, ah go away, come back, and you’re like, hmm maybe I’m just being picky and no one else would actually notice this. Overthinking it a bit.

Sarah: Well, for me, I know that, you know, it’s a 50/50 thing. Some days I’ll read my writing and I’ll hate it, and other days I’ll read it and I’m like, yeah this is, this is really good.

Ashley: Nailed it today.

Sarah: Whether it is or not, who knows. But, if you can capitalize on those days, where you’re like yeah this isn’t too bad, then you can keep going. So if you sit down and you think, oh, this is shit, what am I doing? Just go away and wait for a day where you sit down and say, hey this isn’t too bad.

Ashley: Yeah, trick yourself, I like it.

Sarah: That’s my way. And if you’re constantly thinking it’s shit, well maybe you need to do something about it, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

Ashley: Yeah it’s usually a first draft this point anyways, it’s fine. I’m always like, Sarah will fix it later if it’s really bad. She’ll notice and then she can fix it, and it’s fine. Once we’re editing.

Sarah: Yeah I think it is, I don’t know if you ever felt this, I don’t think I ever have because we started writing together when we were so young, but, I think there’s definitely a, you know, you want to put your best work out there. Because ours, we kind of almost… I guess you could almost view our collaborative writing is having someone beta read each chapter as it goes, in some ways. But I guess it could bring up anxiety as well, if you think you haven’t done a good… a decent chapter, and you send it away. Have you ever been concerned of what I might think or?

Ashley: Um, not at the start, but because I work in a very critical profession, I’ve received a lot of very harsh, very harsh criticism in the past, so that has made me a bit more wary of the quality of work I send out to people. Which is why I’ve had to get better at leaving stuff before I send it to you. Because at work, I can spend an entire day getting a paragraph perfect to send off to someone or you know, to get feedback on or whatever. And obviously you don’t want to be soul crushed by the feedback that you receive. So I’d always work extremely hard to make sure that it’s not terrible. So I think that, once we started writing together again that kind of, flowed over into my creative writing. But I’ve been learning to let it go now.

Sarah: Yeah well, it helps when I guess I email you like here’s my chapter! And then I’m like, here’s my chapter again because I screwed it up! And here’s it again! Because, as I’ve said on other podcasts, I often… I’ll send Ashley a chapter and then I’ll be like, oh my goodness, I just spotted some errors. Because I’ll get over excited when I send it the first time, so then I’ll need to redo it and send it again.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: But, yeah. I mean I don’t think that I’ve ever been super anxious about it, but I certainly know with sending it to other people I get anxious sometimes.

Ashley: Well I figure, the feedback that I get from anyone can’t possibly be anywhere near as bad as the feedback I’ve gotten in the past through my academic writing. Some of their… like reviewer comments and things from journals, they are… they’re brutal. Let’s just go with that. They’re brutal, and over really small things. So because… I can deal with that, it’s fine. Whatever Sarah says, whatever James says, it’s nothing compared to some of the stuff that I faced before. So, i’m getting better.

Sarah: Yeah, I should probably try and view it more that way. Because it’s not like… in my previous work as an operating room nurse, you can imagine, sometimes things get quite heated in stressful situations in the operating room. And I have been yelled at many times, but I think verbal stuff like that is different for me, and especially when I know that people were just stressed about the situation, it’s a bit different than being stressed about something that I’ve produced in my work.

Ashley: I remember one, sorry, I remember one critique I got… I can’t… it was for an article in a journal, but anyways. I remember, I had used the word gratifyingly. I was like, gratifyingly, the reaction worked. Something like that, not really important, it could stay, it could go, right? Doesn’t really matter. The comment, I think was, why have you used the word gratifyingly? Sounds terrible, delete it. And I was like, okay, I’m really sorry. Like it’s one of those things that means nothing but you’re like, oh my God you hated it that much that you had to, you know, explicitly tell me it offended you and it had to be deleted and when you do these things…

Sarah: That would annoy me so much. That would make me wanna leave it.

Ashley: But you can’t, this is the thing, so they give you corrections and you have to send back the document and highlight and address every single correction. And you have to put an explanation of what you’ve done. So I had to like, highlight the empty space where it was, and I was like, word gratifyingly deleted, as per request of, of reviewer. Or something, and you’re like, I couldn’t have even left it if I wanted. But yeah, so stuff like that.

Sarah: Ah dear.

Ashley: Quite hilarious.

Sarah: So, I guess, we could say, even though it sounds like we’ve just gone off on a huge tangent, fear of feedback can be a stumbling block as well, so.

Ashley: Yeah, for sure.

Sarah: Kind of tangent but related, related.

Ashley: Yeah, well, and it does bring us quite well to the next part of our discussion, which was whether there are any other aspects of novel writing that we personally find difficult.

Sarah: Mine I would say is pacing.

Ashley: Which I also had.

Sarah: Yeah. I have two issues, one, either I’m writing a very slow-paced scene and it just becomes this, I don’t know, spewing of thoughts onto paper, which is like this introspective, weird flow from the character that doesn’t really work for the chapter. Or it’s all action, and when it’s all action, sometimes I don’t put in enough detail into the scene and it just races from one event to the next event, and I am a billion words short for that chapter and I’m like oh my goodness, how am I ever going to make it to—because we usually aim for like, 3000 words for our chapters, mine I’m a little bit more… I tend to go for shorter chapters with my own writing, but yeah, I’m like, how am I even going to get 1500 words, like I’ve written 500 words and I’ve covered all the chapter points, what do I do now? So that I find kind of challenging. But usually there’s points, if I go back that I definitely need to add or expand. Which is basically Ashley’s feedback on my entire novel. So that was funny. I was like, yeah, considering it’s like just 60,000 words that’s not really surprising. And a lot happens in it.

Ashley: A lot does happen. Things are…like a lot is happening. My issue with pacing is kind of similar. So my writing style is quite a succinct writing style and it, sometimes when you read it, it gives the impression like events are happening, really, really, really fast. So usually I’ll write a scene, and then I have to go back and very purposefully tease out stuff to make it not feel like the reader has run like a sprinting race through like the section. And, for me it doesn’t even necessarily happen with action, it’ll be stuff like my character goes on a, you know, they’re going from here to there. And I do want things to happen, conversations to happen in that time, except he, like gets on his horse has a conversation, gets off his horse and you’re like oh no things need to happen in there because it doesn’t seem right. Because now the time passing’s not right. So then I have to go in and tease things out. Like he would have seen stuff, like he’s not just going to randomly blindly talk to this person, not notice anything and then like be at his destination. So I’ve been having to purposefully always add extra stuff. It’s actually what I did this morning.

Sarah: I find it a struggle when they’re sitting in one place, and they’re just talking and then I’ll have to find these actions or things for them to do, while they’re sitting. And then I’ve had several situations where they’ve done something and then they’ve done something else that’s contradictory to the first thing. Like, one minute they’ll be like sitting forward leaning on the hands or something, and then the next they’ll be like leaning back in their chair. And I’ll suddenly be like, but… a moment before they were leaning forward. That’s a lot of movement just for you know, within two sentences.

Ashley: Imagine them rocking aggressively.

Sarah: Oh, yeah. Rocking back and forth.

Ashley: I just realized I moved away and close to my mic, so that might sound really strange to the listeners I apologize. I was imitating rocking but then I realized, you also can’t see that, so.

Sarah: I just did that, too, so we’ll probably have the same problem with mine.

Ashley: Okay.

Sarah: Ah dear.

Ashley: I have another similar thing this era where I really struggle with coming up with new and interesting ways to describe things, and then weave them into my way too fast pace to help slow it down. So that’s something that I struggle with a lot, not a lot, but it’s one of the things that I always need to constantly work on. Especially when you know you’re wanting to describe what someone’s face is like again. But because they’re making different expression and you’re like, I can’t just say, you know, their brown eyes again. But I don’t want their eyes to seem like some sort of like weird thing with its own emotions that separate from the person, and then try to come up with something that doesn’t sound ridiculous.

Sarah: Oh my goodness.

Ashley: Otherwise, if you make it sound ridiculous, and then you come back to the editing and you’re being super critical, you then have the issue you start imagining—like we’ve talked about in mistakes of the month a few times—you start imagining these body parts with actual human emotions or something. You’re like, this has to go it’s brown eyes again.

Sarah: The thing that I find is often I’ll read a phrase somewhere, whether it’s part of Ashley’s work or something that I’ve written, and it’s like my mind grabs onto it and it’s like, oh that’s a good phrase. And it does it subconsciously and then it will come up crop up in my writing further on. And so often I’ll go through parts of the book, and I’ll be like, oh that sentence is repeated in this chapter, that’s the same as the sentence in this chapter, and so then I have to try and find new ways or completely find something entirely different to say. Like one of them, for example was, there’s one situation when Levi walks into a house in Darkness, Set Us Free, and he drags his finger through dust on a dresser. Drawing a line in the dust. For some reason my mind caught a hold of that phrase, and it keeps cropping up. It cropped up again in Darkness, Set Us Free, and I had to redo it. And then it cropped up again in my own book, and I was like, oh my goodness, I wasn’t even the original creator of this line.

Ashley: You’re like, it’s stuck with me.

Sarah: But yes. It’s not consciously or like purposeful plagiarism or anything.

Ashley: No, I know what you mean though.

Sarah: It just… it just happens. And then you catch it and you’re like, hang on a second. I’m pretty sure I got this from somewhere else.

Ashley: Like clearly the imagery stuck with you in that scene and you’re like, oh I’ve liked this and then subconsciously have been putting it in.

Sarah: Yep. Pretty much, pretty much. I think everyone does it to an extent. And that’s, you know, that’s how cliches are formed, because people will like the sound of a certain set of words being together, and then you use it over and over again and it becomes a cliché. But, trying to consciously not do that, especially if there’s… because often you’re drawn to specific phrases and being aware of the phrases that you’re drawn to so that you don’t repeat the same sentence over and over again, in your book I think, is quite important, but that’s the point that I get stuck on, sometimes.

Ashley: Was there anything else, I wanted to cover.

Sarah: I think we had a good go at this, um.

Ashley: Me too, me too.

Sarah: Should we move on to mistakes of the month?

Ashley: Yes, let’s do it.

Sarah: Do you want to go first?

Ashley: Sure, sure. I’ve got a few that I found. Again, these are all from the… I’ll have a quick look. Yeah they’re all from the Ancient Greece book. Different chapters, though. So the first one is, ‘Damien scowled. “Helene has lived in the city her whole life, open the gates.” He gave the signal to the gates.’ It was meant to be guards. Read it, and I was like, hmmm. I don’t think it’s an Ancient Greece are automatic or anything. Someone needs to open those gates.

Sarah: Open the gates magically, like automatic gates.

Ashley: Open sesame, and they open up. Did you want to keep going, or did you have any?

Sarah: You can keep going and then I’ll, I’ll do mine last.

Ashley: Okay.

Sarah: I’ve only got one today.

Ashley: Yeah. Alright, so the next one is, ‘and he sure as hell wasn’t going to extend the rest of his life separated from his wife.’ It was extend instead of spend.

Sarah: I was like, extend the rest of his life?

Ashley: I was like, is his marriage with Cassie that stressful?

Sarah: Yeah! She was killing him. Just killing him.

Ashley: I know, his life’s extended while they’re separated. Oh dear. Another one I found was, ‘he’d come home from work late and she’d be curled up on the couch, her dark hair in a messy bum, a glass of wine in her hand.’ Obviously, instead of bum… like oh my goodness. I actually found one today as well, which is quite amusing, which wasn’t on the on the… our outline. But I’ll read it to you anyways.

Sarah: Go for it.

Ashley: Alright, ‘the Helenes did not look impressed.’ Don’t even know what happened.

Sarah: I don’t understand. How does that happen?

Ashley: I think it was supposed to be ‘Helene didn’t look impressed’, but somehow… the Helenes did not look impressed.

Sarah: The Helenes. I love that it’s pluralized as wel, it’s not even ‘The Helene’.

Ashley: I think it was because I originally had something like, ‘Helene’s face, blah blah blah,’ but then tried to change it, and then obviously just confused myself and put in that sentence, for some reason.

Sarah: That’s funny. So I have not been writing a whole lot, so I didn’t really have too much, but I was… oh, because I was reading a book and I realized they’d named someone Officer McNulty. Which cracks me up because I was like, The Wire. If you’ve ever watched The Wire, and it had nothing to do a wire. But they happened to name someone like a police officer, McNulty, which I found hilarious. And it just brought me back to one of the mistakes I found in my own work, where I accidentally named a character, after a famous person. Entirely unintentionally, it was a subconscious thing. I had the last name for this character, and my mind put the two together subconsciously and yeah the name was, I had Sergeant Jackson was the character.

Ashley: Okay.

Sarah: And then I needed a first name for him so and then I called him Michael.

Ashley: Oh no.

Sarah: Michael Jackson.

Ashley: Oh my goodness, oh no.

Sarah: And then I read through it later, in my edits and I was like, oh my God. What have I done?

Ashley: Change it, change it, change it.

Sarah: I think he’s Eli Jackson now.

Ashley: That’s amazing.

Sarah: Oh, my goodness, Michael Jackson.

Ashley: Anyway, so if anyone else has any mistakes of the month, please send them in, we’d love to hear them. And then, you know, you don’t have to listen to our mistakes, all the time Although hopefully you appreciate them.

Sarah: Yeah, I hope everyone enjoys out mistakes of the month as much as we do, because really.

Ashley: Always get a good laugh out of them.

Sarah: Hmm. I don’t… I have no words for them.

Ashley: The best thing is when you find them, and you’re like, this is hilarious.

Sarah: Crying over it.

Ashley: Can’t wait to share it with everyone, this is hilarious.

Sarah: So there are still some spots left on our Author Spotlight section. So, if you want to have a chat with us and come onto the podcast then please let us know. You can go to our website at, and hover your mouse over the podcast and it should show you that ‘Be featured on Dear Writer’, and then, if you click on that it’ll take you to a form to fill out. Which just helps us get to know you and know what questions to ask you and yeah. We’re very friendly so, don’t be… don’t be scared.

Ashley: Please come talk to us.

Sarah: So, but I would mention that these spots are for later in the year, so we will get back to you and, you know, explain everything that goes on, but just so that you know we probably won’t be recording to at least July kind of round then. Or later depending on how soon you get into contact.

Ashley: I was just going to say, so if you are planning on having a book come out or anything later in the year, maybe that would be a good time to chat with us.

Sarah: Definitely.

Ashley: So next time on Dear Writer, it’s going to be our next cultreing… cultreing oh my gosh. Culturing Creativityepisode, where we’re going to talk about why it’s okay to relax. Which I think is important for everyone, everyone needs time to relax and we’ll hopefully have quite a good chat about that.

Sarah: Yeah especially after we’ve sort of been through a bit of burnout in the last few weeks, so.

Ashley: Exactly, exactly.

Sarah: We’ll be able to speak to that.

Ashley: So if you’d like to know any more about us or writing projects, you can visit us at, you can also check out our blog there and we also have the transcripts from these episodes up as well, which you can take a look at. Or if you just want to get in touch, you can contact us on Facebook or Instagram, which is also under @lindersoncreations.

Sarah: So, if you enjoyed the show it would really help us if you rate and review it on apple podcast, or subscribe on whatever podcatcher you use, even just telling writer friend about it would be really awesome, but we hope you all enjoyed this episode and we will see you all next week.

Ashley: Happy writing, everyone.