The Maidenhead of Despair

You’re never too old to learn.

In my opinion, the moment you stop learning, you also stop living. After all, if you close yourself off to learning, or decide now is the time to rest on your laurels in a ‘my work is done’ kind of way, you could find that you missed out on something marvellous that could have enhance your life, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious.

In the past week or so my life has been enhanced by two things.

  1. Using a hyphen is not always appropriate. There is such a thing as an en dash and also an em dash (so-called because the first is roughly the width of an N, the second because it is roughly the width of an M). They are used in two specific situations where a hyphen will not do!
  2. Indents. Don’t tab to start a new paragraph. Set up your document style beforehand and you will be all set. It’s important when you’re facing the prospect of uploading your work to KDP or another bookish platform for publication.

Now then.

Cue the Slough of Despond and the Maidenhead of Despair (a pun on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and two towns in England. If you know, you know). I had line-edited 87% of my novel (yes, I did use a calculator to work that out) before I learned this and my heart sank. Did I really need to go through all the chapters I had line-edited so far to sort out the hyphen/en dash/em dash issue? Why the heck didn’t I know about these grammatical tools until now? I’m supposed to be well-read and literate for crying out loud!

Well, I am still both of those things but I’ve never worked in the arena of typesetting for a start and, well, I had subconsciously noticed these overly-large horizontal lines but just assumed they were part of the print-justification process. So sue me (no, please don’t). But I know I’m not alone.

Dear Reader, I did absorb this learning into my novel and it is all (as far as I can tell) suitably edited to include em dashes where appropriate. En dashes were not needed. I feel better for doing it and quite frankly, it is one less thing for my editor to focus on.

As for the Great Tab/Indent Crisis of 2021… well, let’s just say it was a reminder that I never, ever had any training on how to use Word. I just play with it to make it do what I want. And it largely does, although every now and I again I have used Bad Words as I’ve hit the ceiling of my understanding on what this admittedly powerful tool can do. Hit the ceiling of my understanding and also lack the time to determine exactly what I needed to do to resolve the issue.

Dear Reader (you’re still there aren’t you?), I had a very poor night’s sleep on Friday night (something I excel at) and decided early morning on a Saturday was the perfect time to call in the negotiators and release my novel from its poorly-formatted hostage situation. In other words I used the internet to find out what I needed to do. After a bit of finagling, I got there. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that I had begun writing Anti-Virus in the Notes app on my iPad, then exported those chapters to Word, so legacy ‘formatting’ (in the loosest sense of the word) was an issue. On top of that I’m using an old version of Word for Mac, so finding out how to deal with the tabs/indents using information for more recent versions of Word was… interesting. Again, I used some more Bad Words along the way, although as I discussed with my lovely author friend Lucie Ataya, I didn’t use them all! I saved some for later.

Oh. And just in case you’re wondering… I submitted my (much better formatted and suitably em dashed) novel to my editor yesterday afternoon.

I’m happy.

For now!

Troughs and peaks

Much like last week, this week has been a week of interrupted creativity on the editing front. I had a bit of a hissy fit about it on Tuesday when I realised that no editing was going to happen in the usual way that I had been used to, because quite frankly, my brain was mush. And then I felt frustrated, a little melancholy and childishly, hated everyone who had more free time than I did. I also compared myself to anyone else whose writing journey was apparently going swimmingly and of course, found myself severely lacking.

A word to the not-so-wise. Don’t compare yourself to others. It rarely goes well. If everything is fine and dandy for you, you’re not going to give two hoots about anyone else. If your life is a big pile of crap, that’s when you look at other people’s lives and achievements and well, you know the rest.

Anyway… after my pity party for one (there were no streamers, party poppers, Prosecco or fresh out of the oven sausage rolls, it was pretty rubbish) , I took myself to the naughty step and decided I had to dig myself out of this hole. On Wednesday evening I reached out (I normally hate that phrase, but it’s appropriate here) to my writer friends on Instagram with the following question:

I anticipated a few responses. I was wrong. I had so many, in the context of my ‘reach’. So very many of us are struggling with this. So few of us ever say it. I guess that’s the downside of social media, no matter which one you choose – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, Twitch, all the other ones I know nothing about because I’m too old – there’s this apparent urge to just show ourselves in the most positive way, living our best lives (as the people younger than me like to say). It’s a façade, and an exhausting one.

Life. Is. Tough. (Especially now, for a myriad of reasons top of which is the pandemic of course). In the grand scheme of things, feeling over-worked, or just more worked than you would like in an ideal world, is an OK problem to have. But it affects your mental health far more than necessary, unless you share your difficulties with other people. It certainly helped me. Now, I’m not glad that other people are struggling, but I am glad that we could support each other, even just via a few messages, and know that each of us is not alone. It helped me – I even got down to some editing on Friday evening and followed up with two more stints on Saturday and a further one this morning. I’m back where I had hoped to be. If I hadn’t shared my struggle on Instagram, I might still be writhing in my own self-made pit of despair.

Outside of writerly commentary, there is a simple truth. All around the world there are people who are struggling. We are united in our humanity. That’s all we need to know.

Engagement and supporting indie authors

This week, I have had a week off work. Not that it has changed my surroundings much because in this old-new working from home world, I am still at home, just not at my ‘office’ desk.

It has been productive. My plan was to get some good editing of my work in progress novel done, and sitting here at just after 10.30am on a Sunday morning, I can say that I achieved that.

In particular, I tackled a really knotty plot issue that had been bothering me for a long time. I had the epiphany a short while ago and the wise part of past me (I do have one) wrote it all down in my notebook that I keep here on my writing desk, ready for the day when I would need to refer to it. I also tagged it with sticky notes on which I’d written

PLOT RESOLUTION

Future me patted past me on the back for not thinking ‘oh, I’ll remember that’ because you know what, future me never does!

Present me (OK, I’ll stop now) is feeling satisfied, but I know that I still have a lot of work to do. I’m about two thirds of the way through my editing, so the bulk of that stage (words wise) is done. The next hill or mountain that I’ve started to tackle is engagement. Engagement with the writing community on Twitter for a start. I’ve had an account on there for a few years but wasn’t really that clear on how to make it work. Over the past few days, because I’ve had the time, I’ve worked it out a little bit more and got involved in a few conversations and gained followers. I shall stick with it. Instagram is less of an issue because that is the one thing that I’ve stuck with over the past few months, as you know. I think it’s going to involve some hard work to gain a decent following in the Twitter-verse, but I shall stick with it.

The future of my book is at stake.

Well, the future of my book being read by lots of people, that is. It’s not a pandemic after all (or is it?).

Talking of books – I bought and have started reading a novel that was recently published by a fellow author I have met through Instagram, City of Immortal Shadows by T.J. Swackhammer.

It. Is. Really. Good.

Take a look at her website, get a feel for the world of Emaldin and if dark, foreboding and endlessly strange is up your dystopian alley, do buy a copy.

Well that’s me for the week. See you on Halloween!