"Writing isn’t just the pen and paper bit, or fingers on keyboard."
I recently decided to poke around my circle of friends who are interested in writing or have been writing for some time, to find out more about them. So many of my friends are experts in various fields and I think it's good to know them as potential sources to consult!
My first email chat is with Electra Rhodes, or El, who is a prehistoric specialist in archaeology - her main area of research is prehistoric tattooing (mainly medical tattooing, so color me intrigued!). If you want to chat with her about prehistoric medical tattooing or knitting or related topics, just go say hi on Twitter, or pop by her Ko-Fi to support her work. Or, you know, go be Internet friends with one of the most enthusiastic and encouraging readers that I know.
(AK - me, EL - Electra)
AK: Hi Electra! Thanks again for agreeing to this. Do I go with El or Electra?
EL: Hey hey hey! El is fine.
AK: Let's talk about your latest writing project. What is it about?
EL: New project .. I’m writing something that spans the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the 21st. It’s a story told in three interweaving parts. One part is set in the past and is revealed to us in a reverse chronology. One part is the lens through which we understand that story. And the other? Well. I’m working on that! This is the biggest of the five new things I’m doing. I’ve got four smaller things going on and maybe twenty WIP (works-in-progress). There’ll be shorts too throughout the year.
AK: That is a lot of writing. What attracted you to this project in the first place?
EL: I was interested in this project because I woke up one morning with an idea. I’d seen two posts on Twitter which had set something running in my head and then the story was there. This is how it tends to work for me. I have an idea and then I can see the whole thing pretty much in my mind’s eye. For anything over ten thousand words I tend to write down a broad outline. But we’re talking very broad.
AK: I know you collaborate with some other fan creators now and then. What do you do in your collaborations and how do you feel about it?
EL: I’m entertained! I almost never write with others! I write and work with people who are artists. But I’m a crap collaborator when it comes to writing. I’ve done it once... granted that’s with twelve others! And we’ve managed a long iterative process whereby we support and nudge each other. But I’m terrible as a collaborator on an original story because I write fast and my head is usually full with what I want to do and I don’t want to slow down!
I do beta (reading) for people sometimes. I’m surprised at how often. I don’t advertise it as I don’t think of myself as a natural one. But I’m always willing to help. My main thing is to ask the writer what they want from a beta. Grammar? Sentence construction? Flow? Or the premise of the story? The shape? The arc? The dialogue? And I am honest. If that’s what they want. If the writer simply wants support, then I can do that. I do a lot of that. Maybe that’s a kind of collaboration?
AK: It definitely is a kind of collaboration. Does your knowledge of archaeology come in handy at all?
EL: The archaeology is useful sometimes! I’m writing something at the moment where quite a bit comes into play. But often it’s the skills from a lifetime of academic work that is useful. Plotting. Research. Planning. Patience. Editing. Cutting out the waffle.
AK: Mmm. Waffles. You seem to have a lot of plates spinning at the same time. Do you have a writing discipline?
EL: Sometimes. Usually that’s to do with setting myself a challenge. I spent a few months improving endings. I spent a month posting something every day. I worked on dialogue only and then no dialogue. I looked up different shapes and structures and then experimented. I practised long, short, multi-chapter and one shots. I made use of prompts, and creative challenges and fests. I guess my writing discipline is to write. Sometimes it’s an effort. But it’s easy for me to be lazy. But when I say that I know my definition of lazy is not necessarily the same as others.
Here’s an example: I was lamenting the fact I haven’t written anything since the 8th Jan, that’s nearly three weeks. But in that time I’ve written about 11,000 words. But I haven’t published them. So. I have to remind myself that plotting, research, writing and not publishing, and reading around, all counts!!! Writing isn’t just the pen and paper bit, or fingers on keyboard.
AK: Thanks for that last bit; that is truly affirming! Okay, last thought: Are there fanfic writers you admire?
EL: Is there an author I admire? So many! So many! I’m a fan of those just starting and trying and experimenting. I love those people who are niche, who will never get a great number of hits but who write for the love of it. I love the well established writers who are still willing to give us new content to frankly devour! I love the people who are writing, regularly, who think they haven’t quite broken through into the fandom, but who persevere. I love the people who write one thing that everyone loves and who keep writing even if they never hit those heights again. I love the people who keep going in the face of trolls or shit comments. I love the people who are frankly awful but who try and god aren’t they doing amazingly? I love the people who post crossover, canon, trope, rare-pairs, AUs, unpopular pairs. Really? If you’re a fandom author, thank you! So much!
AK: As a fandom author, thank you for that. Okay, when I first approached you about an interview, you mentioned something called "Trope Bingo". Could you share a little more about what it is?
EL: Trope bingo? I’ve got a card with twenty five squares on it each with a popular trope in the fandom. I’ve still one or two to get to but I thought I’d have a go at doing all of them at least once.
AK: How do you get past a writer's block?
EL: I tend to think about why I get stuck in a rut or just stalled in any aspect of my life and try and apply what I’ve learned there. I’m the kind of person that tries it head on. Can’t write that thing? Write the other thing. Write something. Anything. Go back and read something you did before. Don’t have anything to go back to. Write a letter to a fandom friend about your thoughts and headcanons. Talk to someone about it. Tweet your headcanons out. Do some research for the story. Jot down some key words. Or ideas. Or phrases. In particular I sometimes think going back to your source material can help. And as you watch jot down what you want to do with those characters. What you wished they’d said. How it might have gone. The great thing is it will pass. I won’t say how quickly. But it will. Something will shift. And when it does don’t beat yourself up about the time you spent not writing, just write.
One thing that can go either way is reading other fic. It can either inspire you! Yay! Or like Franklin said (not that one, the other one), comparison can be the thief of joy. (AK's note: It's actually Theodore Roosevelt who said it.)
If you think it will make you miserable, why do it to yourself? If it will cheer you up, go for it! One of the things I know about writing, for myself, is that the doing of it can amplify however I am feeling about myself in the moment. Ugh. Don’t want to write. Grumpy. Nope. I’m terrible. However, I’m incredibly fortunate in that writing usually cheers me up no end. So, although it’s shit at the start, by a few paragraphs in I’m much happier.
I suppose the other thing is that with practice writing may not get easier but it will generally get better. I look at the first thing I wrote and I don’t cringe, but I can see through the chronology of my writing that I’ve improved. Some stories I’ve been writing for a year also show this. And that's ok. I’m happy with that. I’ve even got ideas for stories I’ve been holding off on until I’ve developed the skills to do the stories justice. A million and a half words in and I’m doing okay. I’ve been published. I’ve found ways to keep going. I’ve written things that have entertained, delighted and moved people. So. I’ll admit I don’t often get stuck. I stop now and again. For a break. For inspiration. Because other things are going on. Maybe I don’t want to think of it as being stuck? Sometimes what we call something has more impact than we realize. Actors talk about resting. So when I’m not writing that’s all it is. I’m not writing. Stuck? Nope. Just stopped. For now.
AK: Thank you El! I hope your words will encourage some of my readers to keep going.