Huge stacks of paper

Improve your writing – become a slush reader

For the last few years, I’ve been a slush reader for Aurealis speculative fiction magazine, and it’s done wonders for me as a writer.

What is a slush reader, you ask? Simply put, open-submission publications like Aurealis receive hundreds, possibly thousands, of submissions every year – far too many for their editors to read through every one when choosing what to publish. So they rely on (usually) volunteers to sift through this virtual mound of unsolicited fiction – the slush pile – and figure out which stories are of high enough quality to pass on up the chain.

I joined the team at Aurealis on a whim, but haven’t regretted the decision for a minute. In fact, slush reading been integral to improving my abilities and confidence as a writer.

Here’s why:

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Male and female mannequins, naked but wrapped in banners that say "Sale"

Sex is everywhere, sex is nowhere; observations from an ace perspective

Something I’ve become really aware of, as an asexual person in Western culture, is the weird way that sex is both hyper-visible and constantly hidden away.

I’m hardly the first to comment on this unhealthy dichotomy in our society. But it takes on a different (though equally damaging) significance from the point of view of someone who’s completely uninterested in sexytimes.

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A mess of jigsaw puzzle pieces

How to get things done when you’re struggling: start with the easy parts

This isn’t the blog post I thought I was going to write today.

I have a whole thing started about asexuality and the simultaneous prevalence and absence of sex in Western society that I though I was going to finish. But when I woke up this morning, I knew it was going to be one of those days: my gut hurt (something bad I ate yesterday? Or just my old friend, referred stress?), and I had a long list of things I needed to get done hanging Damocles-style over my head.

I didn’t even want to get out of bed, let alone write something pithy and thought-provoking about how our society treats sex.

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Fireworks

New year’s reflections 2018-19

And I’m back!

I hope your Christmas season (if you celebrate) was a happy one or, if your circumstances mean that’s a hard ask, a resilient one.

Christmas for me is bittersweet, for reasons I might write about some other time, but the new year is a good time to stop and reflect on where the old year has taken me. I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions – I’m always working towards goals and trying out new strategies for achieving them, regardless of the time of year – so here instead are my new year’s reflections:

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Two figures in the dark cover each other's faces with their hands

Mental illness: stigma and silence

A quick note before I start: Folks, for a number of reasons December is always the busiest and hardest of months for me. So in the name of self-care – and, hopefully, of finishing another story before Christmas – I will be taking a break from blogging until the new year (barring any writing-related announcements). It’s been great to have you with me for website year one; I hope the end of the year is kind to you, and I’ll see you in January.

 

CW: suicidal thoughts

Yesterday I had a conversation that broke my heart.

I was asked to have a chat with an eighteen-year-old first-year university student whose doctor had prescribed antidepressants, but who was hesitant to take them. I’m not a doctor, nor a mental health practitioner, but I did my best as a user of antidepressants to answer questions about my own experience and based on that experience, to give advice that would help them understand the positives and negatives of the medication when making their decision.

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Girl with a lantern finding her way through a dark forest

Figuring it out as I go: on pantsing with anxiety

One of the questions that comes up in writerly circles is: are you a planner or a pantser?

Planners like to know exactly where their story is going before they begin. They’re the writers who create outlines, spreadsheets, scene planners, character maps, etc ad infinitum.J. K. Rowling? Definitely a planner. J.R.R. Tolkein, with his volumes of world history and mythology, his carefully crafted languages, was possibly the ultimate planner.

Pantsers prefer to just sit down and go, and let the story fall as it may – in other words, they write by the seat of their pants.

There’s a lot more appeal, to me, in being a planner. Planners have plans. They know what they’re doing. If they get stuck, they can just look at their plan and figure out where they need to go next – or, if that’s not enough, they can do some more planning. Right?

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Close up on hands typing at a computer keyboard

Writing update and reflections on being in the writing zone

As of this morning, my latest story – tentatively titled ‘Two Turns of the Moon’ – is polished up and in the hands of some of my wonderful beta readers. That’s something I haven’t been able to say since – oh gods – July.

While I await their feedback, I’ll take another look at the story I was struggling with before writing this one. After a lengthy writing drought brought on by travel, job-hunting, and getting too caught up in expectations, I’ve been really pleased by my momentum over the last week, and I want to make every effort not to let that momentum drop.

Just a short post this week – some reflections on what it feels like to be back in the writing zone.
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Someone sitting in a park with a notepad and pen

Stop procrastinating, start writing

I’m pleased to report that I’m continuing to write almost daily, though the amount I get through before it becomes a battle to remain focused is still much less than it was earlier this year, when writing was an established part of my daily routine.

There are some skills, like cycling, that I can put down and pick up again as if I’d never spent a day out of the saddle; others, like knitting, require a conscious retraining of my mind and my muscles if it’s been too long since I last picked up the needles. Writing as a practice – sitting down to do it every day, without procrastination, and, having sat down, being able to keep my fingers moving even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired – is a skill it’s all to easy for me to lose.

After four months of writing not very much at all (a combination of going on holiday, coming back and looking for work, and then dealing with starting a new job), it’s taking a lot of conscious work to get back to place where writing is something I just sit down and do, not something that requires me to wrestle myself into the chair.

Experience tells me that the key here is practice – just keeping going until I build the habit again. But since I can’t just fast forward to the point where habit is enough, here are some tricks I’m using in the meantime to help me sneak past the desire to procrastinate:

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Late 17th Century illustration of the Werewolf of Ansbach being hunted and later hanged

This week I learned: the werewolf trials of early modern Europe

Just a short* post from me today, for the best of reasons – I’m busy writing! I’ve found an anthology to get excited over, which is always a great way to spark ideas – I get a lot of my inspiration from having a topic to brainstorm around. In this case, delightfully, it’s queer werewolves.

Here’s a historical titbit I’ve learned while researching my submission:

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Typewriter with a blank page on a dark background

Rejecting success

Earlier this month, I resigned as Senior Ranger and departed the organisation and the field in which I’ve worked for the last decade of my life. “Park ranger” is no longer a key part of my identity. I’ll have to update my profile here – and elsewhere – once I can actually figure out what my identity looks like now.

I’ve started work at a customer service call centre, on casual hours. I’ll have the chance to move to part-time – and a more stable routine – once I’ve been there a few months.

The complete rejiggering of my life has been greeted by friends, family, and workmates with all kinds of supportiveness, and for the most part I’m really appreciating it. But I want to talk about one particular sentiment that’s been cropping up a lot in certain people’s words of support:

You’ll have so much time now to focus on your writing.

It’s great that you’re taking the next step on your writing journey.

Congratulations – I can’t wait to see your name on the cover of a book!

Here’s the thing, though: since handing in my resignation – blog posts aside – I’ve barely written a word of fiction.

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