Writing Lesser Known Monsters (a really long emotional blog post about how I wrote my book)
As I start writing this, I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. I just thought I’d share some feelings and experiences of writing my first book Lesser Known Monsters (out Halloween 2020, pre-order now!) Maybe one day I’ll go into more detail on all these things as separate blog posts or discussions, but for now I want to get it all out. I will probably organise my thoughts with subheadings, and will touch on some of my processes too – so if you’re still with me, there should be a bit of something for everyone. If you’re not still with me, then you’re not reading this so I can say whatever I want anyway. Penis.
I am not a wellspring of writerly knowledge. I’m barely even a trickle. I am but one late starting thirty something year old writer, who has read a lot of books and always hungered for the one I couldn’t find. That’s what got me wondering if I couldn’t find it because I hadn’t written it yet. I don’t believe there is a right way to write. What I talk about here is likely ‘wrong’ by many peoples standards, but we should be moving beyond such prescriptive standards now. What I do works for me. I have an infinite amount to learn, but maybe me talking about what I do (mistakes included) will help you figure out what works for you too.
Lesser Known Monsters is something of an oddity so far as I am aware, in that it was the title that gave me the idea for the book. I was conducting the glamorous task of cleaning the bathroom sink, and was for some reason thinking about ‘lesser spotted’ animals. I idly thought about applying this concept to monsters. I thought about how most monster stories are about vampires, werewolves, and zombies, and wondered what it would be like to drag out obscure folk-lore and mythological creatures as the main event. I grew up being told that ‘Jenny Greenteeth’ would drag me into the river and drown me if I wasn’t careful, and when I had a little google (okay yes a several day long google loop) I learned that there were stories of lesser known monsters all over the world. I wondered what kind of character would make the journey more fun, and Oscar came into my head right away. I wanted the exact kind of main character that didn’t fit in this type of story. Someone weak, cowardly, indecisive, and unskilled. I wanted a character so distractingly useless that somehow they would manage to draw attention from the fantastical beings around them just by making the reader wonder if he can ever really become a hero.
So, I had a vague concept, two things I wanted to include and achieve. I had nothing else. It was around this time that I listened to the ‘writing excuses’ podcast with Victoria Scwhab (I’m not sure what episode but it’s a great podcast). What I say now is the combination of memory, interpretation, and paraphrasing, but what Victoria was talking about, was who she writes for. I haven’t been writing long, but I was a firm believer in writing for myself, in fact so much so that I only ever planned to write for myself. Writing was a fun private thing for me to do to tell myself stories that I didn’t get to read anywhere else. What Victoria said to me that day, through my little iPhone speaker, was that not only was it good to write for yourself – but to write for a very specific version of yourself. My mind was blown. Immediately I started thinking what specific version of myself needed this story, and before the end of the podcast, I already knew. I needed to write a book for quiet-lonely-Buffy obsessed-severely depressed-lost-closeted-adolescent Rory. That version of me needed a book full of dark fantasy, adventure, action, cheeky jokes, romance, drama, and queer fucking joy.
WAIT, I’M A WRITER NOW?
I’d written a few stories for myself before, and I’d learned not to overcook the planning phase (or I get bored of what I’m telling myself). After I plotted a rough outline with a few bullet points and thought up a few characters that fit the bill (lots of googling obscure monsters to give me ideas) I started writing. I started writing, and it was...fine. As per my usually, some days I couldn’t write a thing, and other days I wrote a little. I hadn’t really fully built the plot or world, and most of what I wrote to begin with has now been chopped up or sent to my collection of short stories (free with pre-orders...). The things I was writing I had no intention to share, let alone publish. I had been using Twitter for a while, and it was around this time that I met my key enablers, Ash Knight and Christopher Chapman. Suddenly they were talking to me and encouraging me. I’m extremely antisocial in reality, and to have people interested in me, a strange stranger, and my writing was life changing. I started sharing parts of what I wrote with them, and they (told me they) liked it! I think it was at that point that my secret personal story plans started to shift into ‘maybe I can share this on a website for no-one to read’ (much like most of this post).
The energy that writing and sharing gave me was so new and exciting that I knew I needed more. My day job is very thankless, and science based, so accessing whole different side of myself and being nourished has been one of the best experiences of my life. So, I wrote. I wrote the whole story, rewrote it, and rewrote it again. Then I sent it to my creative enablers. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited or terrified of a thing, and the excitement didn’t stop when they told me their thoughts...it just got worse. I thought I loved writing before but this...was something different altogether. Ash and Chris provided me with so much support, I honestly don’t think I’d be releasing this book if not for them. They have helped shape not only me as a writer, but my future as a person, for which I will be eternally grateful. Encouraged by Ash and Chris, I started to think about actually releasing Lesser Known Monsters. Twitter doth provide, and I came across Charlie Knight, who would become my editor and Dean Cole who would design my cover. Charlie brought their strength, wisdom, thoughtfulness, and so much care to helping me edit Lesser Known Monsters and pulled out things that I never would have realised needed so much more, to make the story really what it is now. Dean somehow tolerated my extremely limited visual imagination and poor direction with constant kindness and endless helpfulness, and was able to create a cover that feels like it belongs to the book – can anyone ask for more?
WRITING AND MY BRAIN
Writing does not always come easy to me. That is to say, sometimes it does not come at all. Yes, I want to write all the time, but lots of the time my brain has other plans. Writing and ADHD seem to have a strange relationship for me. One week, I will be hyper-fixated to the point where my brain doesn’t even want to sleep that night, only write. The next week? Nope. No headspace. Not a chance. If I’m going to get anything done at all, I will do a bit of research or plotting to keep myself going. I might go for weeks without writing. You might stop reading and go and block me on Twitter now, but I wrote most of Lesser Known Monsters on my phone in a month (NaNoWriMo). Still not blocked me? I wrote the first draft of the sequel in a week and a half. I barely slept, I did nothing else, and I did not have a good relationship with food – but for some reason I was in the zone, and there was no way I could resist it. I see lots of people saying, ‘write every day’, but for many of us that’s not practical or even possible. My way is to ‘write when I can’. Time off can be extremely valuable, it gives you time to recharge and refill your creative well, and perspective, which is fantastic for growth and development. Whilst writing and my ADHD are a whole enemies to lovers to enemies story, writing and my anxiety and depression are an old married couple. Writing has really become the key to my understanding myself better and balancing my mental health.
WHAT’S IN MY TOOLKIT?
As someone who struggles to understand things sometimes, I did invest in a lot of different things. I bought a new laptop, and a few systems to run on it. My little MacBook air has been a warrior through everything so far! For word processing I use Scrivener. I probably only use about 40% of its functionality (the learning curve is real) but as a writing and organisational tool it suits me very well. I tried using Grammarly on and off and do find it a useful tool to help me question how I am writing, but definitely seem to use it less lately. Canva has been my visual go to – it’s not too complicated and quite intuitive. My website was a labour of love on Wix, supposedly one of the easier builders to navigate. Again, I likely don’t use all of the functions, but it’s an intuitive platform with enough options and freedom for me. I did invest in Vellum, because I couldn’t find it within myself to learn how to format any other way. Vellum is expensive, and probably only really an investment if you are going to use it quite a lot. Vellum has a fair amount of options and flexibility and looks slick and professional. That said, many people may find it restrictive if they are more technically minded than me and long for more freedom. I did invest a lot of money in tools to help me write, and I in no way believe that any of these are needed, but they all reduce the friction of obstacles in my own personal process and are valuable at least for now. More valuable than all of these things has been Charlie’s editing skills, and the feedback and support from amazing people like Ash, Chris, Dean and Halo Scot. Next is probably just reading lots of books, and re-reading my own over and over to add polish, with things like these tools bringing up the rear.
Lesser Known Monsters is by no means a perfect book, and it may not even be your cup of tea at all. What I can say, is that having written it, rewritten it, and read it even more, is that I know this book inside out. Reflecting on what I wanted to achieve, I’d give it a solid *chef kiss*. When I think about what the very specific version of myself that I wrote this book for would think of it, I know I did it right. I know that I have the right amount of fun, and hope, and...whatever it is that I needed then to feel like I could just be myself. I’ve produced something that I’m incredibly proud of. More than that, I feel like it’s becoming its own thing. Lesser Known Monsters isn’t just a raw extended nerve of mine – it’s its own entity now. Most importantly, I’ve met and worked with people who have changed my life. I will change and grow as a writer, but this book will always mean what it means to me right now, and I’m really excited to share it with you.