I know it’s been quiet around here lately, but in truth it’s because I have actually been doing a lot of writing! I know, sometimes I even amaze myself!
Anyway, I’m emerging from my writing hole to use the power of internet-based peer-pressure for good. I know one of the things the internet has become known for since it went mainstream is peer-pressure, but don’t worry! I’m too old and too grumpy to worry too much if people tell me that I suck!
Anyway, I am announcing properly that this year I’m having another run at Nanowrimo.
I’ve tried it before several times and usually RL gets in the way, or I come down ill or I just get stuck and lose my momentum and then I drop out. And I’m always very disappointed with myself, but once I’ve fallen behind it’s just too easy to give up entirely and let the month pass along without me…
But not this year!
No, as those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I have finished drafting out my plan, I’ve tinkered with it until I’m as happy as I can be with it, and now, it is time!
There are no more excuses.
I’ve done all my writing practise drills, I’ve given myself a stern talking to about worrying that I’m a rubbish writer, because after all, everyone’s first draft is terrible, isn’t it? I’ve got my plan, got my favourite mug for tea, I’ve a fully stocked biscuit time waiting for me, and not least, I have all you lovely people too, haven’t I?
So this is me, properly telling you all that I’m doing this. I’ll be updating regularly with little notes about my progress, any stickers they send me, that sort of thing. More importantly, even though I know that I am but one person of many who do this every November, I will feel that you will all be very disappointed in me if I don’t finish this year.
I know my own weaknesses and motivations…
So here goes! Wish me luck!
New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:
Hello everyone! I’m very happy to say that today is the Here Be Wyverns’ Blog’s 2nd birthday!
*Cue Wild Applause!*
Thank you to everyone who has given me encouragement, advice and most of all their own time for reading this blog. I couldn’t honestly say that I’d have made it through even so much as the first year without you, and certainly not two!
There have been a few milestones, especially this past year, and I know that they are small ones but I’m proud of them and I wanted to share! I don’t know whether it’s not the Done Thing to talk about these things, but I’m a big advocate for sharing things that make you happy and that you’re proud of and encouraging others to do the same. If we cannot share our joy then how will we ever see anything but sadness, and all that?
May 2018 I didn’t even know that WordPress did these kinds of little stickers until this popped up in my Inbox one morning! It’s strange, because I’d never thought to count up how many views or likes I’d been getting, but the idea that so many people had liked whatever nonsense I’ve been putting out enough to click and tell me was strangely validating! definitely was an encouragement to keep putting out content!
June 2018 Alright, so this is pretty old and I’ve put up a few more since then, but I’m still a little impressed that I’ve managed to find so many things to talk about in 2 years! I hope I’ve not slipped too often into tedious territory!
August 2019 I am neither too old nor too proud to admit that when this little sticker popped up for me, I may have sniffled a little bit in my armchair!
When I first started out blogging, for the first two months or so I definitely knew every single one of my followers personally, which was a little strange as I’d post something and then get a text message from a friend telling me what she thought! The idea that I almost certainly don’t know you all from my daily life is a strange and wonderful thought! Hello internet friends! May we meet in person one day!
August 2019 August was a big month on the blog, it seems! Once again, thank you to everyone who took the time to interact with me here, either with your lovely and insightful and funny comments, or with clicking the ‘Like’ button! I know it’s a common thing for us writers to be constantly unsure about the quality of their work, and I certainly find it very encouraging to have something tangible to beat those doubts back when writing just seems too hard and nothing I type reads as anything other than garbage!
Sharing happiness aside, I know it’s a common thing around this time to share advice or shine a light on interesting blogs that are out there, but I never know if I have enough insight into either to really add anything right now. Maybe next year, if I can?
In lieu of anything of that nature, I cannot recommend enough checking out The Orangutan Librarian’s series ‘Bloggers Who Deserve More Attention’ (Part 5 to be found here). I have found so many really interesting and lovely blogs through that series, which I’d never have heard about if it weren’t for them!
But I would very much like to share a few things that I have learned in the past two years, especially for new bloggers or those of us who’d really like to have a blog but aren’t quite sure about it either. Because I learned all of these lessons the hard way, and there’s no reason that anyone else should have to cry and shake to learn them too!
1. You Don’t Have To Have A Plan I know, I know. All the advice out there says that if you want to be successful, if you want to, well, ‘make it’ and all.
And planning’s fine, but if you’re anything like me and thus a dreadful over-thinker? You’re never going to get anything done. I was a mess of notebooks and post-its and ‘but what if’s for months before a friend finally lost her patience and kidnapped my laptop to make this site. I flailed in the background while she did it, in hindsight it was hilarious!
Everything about my life is just so dignified, no?
Anyway, you know what I learned from this? Well, lots, but mostly what I learned was this: if it’s not right straight away? The world doesn’t end, you don’t lose your blogging license and sometimes you don’t know what you’re good at until you try, you know? We over-planners, we worry constantly about what happens if we make a wrong choice, and yeah, sometimes we’re right and that decision is genuinely really important or you’ll have to spend ages and possibly money unpicking a poor choice and all, but with a free blog?
Go for it! Throw yourself in at the deep end! Recklessly abandon your fears by the wayside! Panic is temporary and meaningless!
Maybe this isn’t how million-viewer blogs with sponsorship deals are born, but neither is staring at your notebooks until 3am while you’re too scared to move either. Give it a try and if it’s not your thing then you learned that much about yourself for free! There’s a life-coach out there who could have charged you £100 to tell you that!
2. Be honest with yourself about what you want out of this whole venture Look, there’s no shame in admitting that everyone blogs for different reasons, and that’s both entirely natural and 100% OK. But a lot of advice for bloggers out there very much assumes that you are blogging in the hopes of getting a huge following, as quickly as possible, and preferably going to monetize and/or use it as a platform for self-publishing.
Which if that’s your goal, cool! Plenty of people do very well at blogging that way and I really enjoy reading their blogs. Just the thing is…
That’s not why I blog.
I blog to encourage myself to write even if I can’t think of anything especially poetic to write for stories, the force myself to branch out in what genres and styles of writing I can do, and to find people with similar interests. I’m much better at thinking about writing and talking about writing than actually setting fingers to keys, and having a blog helps me marry those two things together much better. Typing out my thought processes forces me to think more coherently and to face up to weaker areas in my own work. And that’s all very helpful, even if it’s not ever going to attract enough readers to make any kind of career out of it!
I know one photography blogger who uses her blog mostly as a way to store and sort her photos, and to be able to share them with her friends more easily since she hates Facebook. Ditto a friend who uses her food blog like my grandma used her cookbook. Again, highly unlikely to take off into a profitable venture, but perfectly suitable for what they wanted to get out of it.
So I guess, my advice is this; sit down and be totally honest with yourself about what you actually want here. Don’t feel like, just because some people can make lucrative careers from blogging, that you have to do so or you’ve somehow failed at blogging. there’s no righto or wrong way to do this, only right or wrong ways to go about achieving certain ends. So even though #1 on this list was ‘You Don’t Have To Have A Plan‘, knowing what you’re actually reaching for will help you a lot.
3. If it’s not fun anymore, take a break. Again, I know; all the advice says that you have to post at least once a week if you want a following and if you don’t do that then you’ll never get anywhere, and that’s the same thing as failure, right?
I get it. I’ve absolutely been there!
And yes, if you want a large following, you need to be regular and frequent with your updates. You need to be reliable.
As previously noted, I’m writing more to chat to you lovely people and to make myself write at all than to become …blogging-famous? Is that a thing? And we all have lives and things that we want to do that get in the way of blogging, and it can be really stressful to try to juggle both.
Do you try to blog while you’re on holiday? I should say that I know some people for whom writing time is their only peace and quiet while away from home, so maybe keep that in mind! It can definitely work for some, not to mention assist in preventing a meltdown.
Do you work extra hard in the weeks heading up to your break to build up a backlog of posts to be released slowly? What if you need a break unexpectedly?
Look, we all get it, life is messy and complicated and tiring. If writing posts for your blog gets to be exhausting or difficult or stressful… just take a break. If you’re more responsible than me, you could put up a notice saying you’ll be away until whenever. But when the fun has gone out of keeping up with your blog, it’s time to take a break, breathe for a bit, and come back to it refreshed rather than burn yourself out.
4. Follow your interests, not trends
Again, it’s tempting, especially if you want to get noticed and attract followers to your blog quickly, to look up what’s especially popular and just do that. Marketing companies do it all the time.
And it’s always nice if your interests line up with what’s popular, but there’s no guarantee. Trends are always moving and so can be exhausting to keep up with all the time.
Besides, what else are you interested in that you’ll miss out on? No trend out there says taking pictures of a tiny dragon is going to be popular, but I’d never give up Ivan for anything! I’m probably the 5 millionth person to remark that Oxford is a weird and wonderful city with only the most tenuous of grasps on reality, but I live here and it continues to amuse me no end, and I like to share that. I know that book reviews are always popular, but I have tried and I just can’t write reviews of books for anything. They just come out as an unhelpful mess of randomness and even I can’t stand to read them over again.
Writing takes so much time and effort, at least for me, that it’s much easier and healthier for me to just write what I’m interested in, try to make it somewhat useful or entertaining for others and go.
I promise that whatever you’re interested in and find writing about to be fun, someone else out there will love reading about it too! They’ll tell you about it, and you can chat about your shared interests. It’ll be so much better than banging out stuff that you don’t really like but feel the need to write because they get good stats.
5. Fluke days are not the norm, don’t expect them all the time
Some days, and you might not even know why, you’ll have a huge spike in views out of nowhere. Maybe you just posted something that really took off? Maybe someone linked to you and it got popular? Maybe you’ll never find out what it is!
But you’ll have a huge number of views one day, and it’s really exciting. Here’s the thing I learned the hard way; that spike is likely to drop back off to normal levels sooner or later, and that’s normal. You try to keep up that kind of momentum, especially if you aren’t entirely sure how you got it in the first place, and you can easily burn yourself out.
Think of days like these as a bonus; it’s lovely to have it, you can probably learn a lot from it – what totally new people are drawn to on your blog, what they never seem to see, whether they have been adequately encouraged to comment or ‘like’ something, that sort of thing – but just as your bonus is not your salary, so too is this unlikely to be your new situation: normal. Relax!
6. Don’t measure yourself up against others: In that game we all lose This one’s a piece of advice that will definitely serve you well in all aspects of your life: You are the one and only expert in being you out there in the world, so why waste that talent and energy trying to be a copy of someone else? Take tips from others, sure. Take inspiration from others; we all do. But no matter how much I love other bloggers, I’m never going to be as good at being them as they are.
Have faith that you are interesting to other people just as you are, because that’s 100% definitely true.
7. You don’t have to stay where you started In all of this, in blogging as in life, remember: If it’s not working out, change it. So you started out wanting to talk about interior design but you’re really most excited to talk about your latest knitting project? So you thought you’d have loads to say about folklore, but actually you’re way more interested in discussing historical cooking?
But you’ve started this blog to talk about the first thing, right? And you might have followers who’ll hate it? They’ll leave!
Remember, blogging’s free, and you’re probably not being paid for this. Take a deep breath and do what makes you genuinely excited, otherwise it’s not worth it! If you’ve already got a following, start a new blog and link the two up. If you’ve not really got many followers and you’re feeling brave, revamp the whole thing and dive into something new.
You don’t live in Stephen King’s Misery book, no one is going to shout at you for changing what you want to write!
Phew! I hope that was remotely coherent? Not to mention, helpful to someone?
What lessons did you learn when you started blogging?
New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:
No, you’re not imagining things, I really am back! I missed you all terribly – hopefully one or two of you missed me. Ivan says hi!
Funny thing about Nanowrimo; every year around April-time I sit there thinking ’I don’t need to do Nanowrimo this year, I can tell myself to write at any time.’ And then whenever October starts flying by, and the nights draw in, and I just want to sit down with books and blankets, and I lose all motivation, up comes Nanowrimo to sit me down, give me a talking to and pull me back to my keyboard. Once again, Nanowrimo, you have been the encouragement I needed!
Funny thing about hiatuses that I have found, for anyone thinking of trying it: it’s like having a falling out with a friend or something, in that it’s a lot easier to start one than to stop one again. September started and I honestly had no idea how to take up my keyboard and start writing for the blog anymore!
Just something for fellow-first-timers…
Anyway, I’ve had various adventures over the summer, I attended the University of Oxford’s Fantasy Writing Summer School, so I’m all fired up with renewed vigour and enthusiasm! There’s something about having to discuss other people’s fantasy writing, their methods, themes and contexts that really helped me get some of my more nebulous thinking into better focus, so in the next few weeks there will be a whole load of posts on various topics which I hope will prove to be interesting and helpful to some of you.
I’ve also taken the time to read through some of my old writing – always a dangerous occupation, that – and had a complete crisis about the world and stories I’ve been building (more on that later!) So it’s been eventful in the same way that the Chinese proverb speaks of ‘Interesting Times’, I’m afraid! I’ve been picking myself up from that huge knock to my confidence and trying to find some way to get whatever writing mojo I possess back ever since.
Of course, Ivan has not been idle either (well, by dragon standards anyway…) and some of the more dragon-ish adventures he’s been having will be published as Postcards from a Tiny Dragon. (Coming Soon)
So, watch this space for the quandaries of writing, thoughts on themes, and the usual general silliness!
As I get older, this keeps happening to me more often; I look up the news of the day and someone I know has passed away. Then I feel sad for a bit and get on with things.
But this morning, when I got the news that we have lost Peter Firmin, aged 89, I was struck by how much Peter and his colleague Oliver Postgate (whom we lost in 2008) had influenced me and the stories I grew to love. When I think of the series I would regularly watch as a child, Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog and the Clangers stick out to me alongside Michael Bond’s creations; The Herbs and Parsley, and of course Paddington Bear.
Of course I wasn’t alive for these tiny masterpieces to be around the first time, but my parents had loved them so much that they would seek them out in reruns and on VHS tapes to share them with my sister and I. Because of this I learned that stories, good stories, are meant to be shared with the people we love, passed down and remembered fondly, not to mention that strange moment as a child when you realise that your own very-grown-up parents were children too once upon a time! Madness!
In honour of the joy that Peter brought to me and many others as children, I thought I’d list a few of the things I took away from his programs and have applied to my won writing over the years.
1. Keep it short
The episodes for shows like The Herbs, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine were only about 10 minutes long. That’s not a lot of time, especially when you have to factor in the introductions and the credits at the beginning and end. But like a lot of children’s shows, the stories didn’t really need more time. They were well-told shorts, any more time and they’d have felt bloated and over-stuffed with padding.
I bring this up particularly in a age of big-budget remakes, especially for the big screen of cinema, in which plot-lines are stretched out and over-complicated far beyond what relatively simple concepts can support. Sometimes your story isn’t a nine-hour epic. Sometimes shorter is better.
When I sit down to write, I always find that I start out planning something the length of The Order of the Phoenix and it’s only thanks to kind writing-buddies with sensible questions that I come to realise that my plot will only really stretch to a novella.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Bigger isn’t always better, we need smaller stories too.
2. Inspiration can come from Anywhere
In an interview, Peter Firmin is said to have come up with the name of Noggin after travelling on the London Underground and seeing Neasden Station, which made him think ‘Noggin’. I’m not entirely sure I follow this, but it obviously made sense to him, and he’s the only one who needed to follow that anyway.
Visually the show was inspired by a trip Peter and Oliver took to the British Museum, the look of the characters drawing heavily from the Lewis Chessmen.
In 1969 (the year of NASA’s first landing on the Moon), the BBC asked Smallfilms to produce a new series, but crucially they neglected to specify a storyline. Oliver Postgate adapted an idea from one of the Noggin the Nog stories ‘The Moonmouse’ in which a spaceship crash lands in the new horse trough and its waistcoat-wearing mouse pilot needs fuel to get home, and behold! A series about knitted pink mice-like creatures living inside the moon was born. And naturally they would speak only in whistles. The connections are so obvious!
I do remain sad that Star Trek never visited the Clanger’s moon… I always wanted to see Bones interact with the Soup Dragon, but that may just be me and my weird brain…
I suppose where I’m going with this is that, as any child knows, anything can be the basis of a new story. Anything can spark an idea for a good plot. Be always on your guard and alert to new possibilities, for plot-bunnies lurk around all corners, for those swift enough and watchful enough to catch them!
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Noggin the Nog was one of the biggest early influences on my writing and the stories I wanted to tell, because it was a very skilful blend spine-tingling atmosphere and folkloric gravitas while being utterly aware of its own absurdities too.
I know that in the years since Nogging the Nog made his way onto the television screens, there have been a lot of humorous takes of the myth and fantasy landscapes – Dealing with Dragons being a personal favourite – but often such works are all comedy and they never feel quite like a tale told for centuries, like Oliver Postgate’s opening narrative makes me feel:
“In the Lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale…”
It sounds so epic, and yet this is a show in which the titular character is called Noggin the Nog, King of the Nogs, husband to Nooka of the Nooks. You can’t even read that with a straight face, can you?
Fantasy is inherently a little silly; there are dragons and goblins and the logic behind the magic and world-views are pretty strange and arbitrary. You could treat it all as a super-serious subject, but you’re going to lose something in the process. I have a Green Man who is literally all green, and another character with horns sticking out of his head in my stories, and no matter how epic the plots end up becoming, I will always be happy to embrace the ridiculous image that conjures up for me!
4. Roll with your weirdness
Something which really stuck with me about a lot of the shows I watched as a child was how they had such utterly bizarre premises, but never felt the need to overthink any of them.
The Herbs has a premise of ‘Herbs are all alive and they have personalities and adventures’ and just throws that at you without explanation. These aren’t magic herbs, they are merely herbs in a herb garden, which must be opened with the magic word: Herbidacious. What?
The Clangers are these weird little pink knitted aliens that live in the craters of the moon, and heck yes there’s a Soup Dragon! What? How else will the Clangers get the green pea soup they live off without him? Huh?
It’s a similar feeling to the opening of The Hobbit for me. The books begins with this:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
And goes on for several paragraphs before we get this:
What is a hobbit? I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no…
It’s terribly easy, especially when you’ve put a lot of thought into your world-building to over-explain everything. You want to make sure that you don’t lose people, and so you carefully hold their hands and take them in tiny steps through the premise until you’re absolutely sure that they must have got it.
These shows, and indeed many good shows made for children, don’t not explain everything in great detail because it’s being saved up for a mystery later. They just dispense with it all as unnecessary. Explaining why Ivor the Engine has a personality would be redundant, all we need to know is that he does have a personality, and free will, and that everyone around him knows that, and off we go. There are stories to be telling here, who cares why the train engine has a soul?
Have a bit of confidence in your weird premise, chuck it with confidence at your readers and trust them to catch up. So long as you’re consistent in your weirdness, so long as everything has some form of weird logic, it just doesn’t matter how everything works.
I like to call it the ‘Just Roll With It’ principle. As in, whenever I throw a new strange thing into my stories, I write “[Just roll with it]” in the body of the text to save myself from wanting to throw a paragraph of exposition after the strange concept. Then I give the story to my beta readers and see if any of them really can’t keep up without some form of explanation. If no one questions the thing, I take out the little note to myself and move on.
5. Dragons Make Everything Better
What TV shows do you remember as a child? How did they influence you? Please say I’m not the only one who remembers these little treasures?
Today, June 27th, is National Writing Day! Are your pens and pencils out and busy?
Even Ivan has got in on the action!
OK, well he’s just getting started!
Who else is curious to see what dragons write about? That is when he gets over the fear of setting the paper on fire…
Anyway, I am fully aware of the irony of using today, National Writing Day, to put this out, but I shall be going on a few months’ hiatus.
Partly because I have somehow been talked into doing Camp Nanowrimo in July (I still suspect witchcraft, others may point to temporary insanity – actually that’s a permanent feature, and thus doesn’t count!) So I’ll still be writing, but mostly concentrating on that book I’m doing all this world-building for!
Also, and just as excitingly, Ivan and I are going on an adventure!
Yes, look at him as he stares into the bleak yet tempting Unknown…
Maybe Ivan can find a new Thing to hoard that isn’t my stationary? Maybe he’ll find knights to befriend (who can see this tiny monster in a fight? No, me neither.) Who knows?
I see you all again, probably in August or September, although intermittent posts about our adventures will still keep coming.