From straight pantser to ever so slightly plotting along.

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I used to be a straight pantser.  (Someone who writes by the seat of their pants instead of plotting with an outline, etc.)

Never did anything, not even writing down character notes, before starting a novel. My mind liked it, but my manuscripts became a bit of a nightmare to edit. It’s hard to keep track of characters, plots, and timelines when NOTHING is written down.

And your memory is a bit shit.

Now, I do better.

I plot a little. I’ll never be a true plotter. Outlines bore me to tears. So, I’ve found a compromise that works.

Stage One: Faces, Names and Places

Three things I usually do before anything else is to pick the location of a story, the novel title, and visual references for the characters.

I’m not a very visual person, so I definitely need an actual image to picture while I’m writing.

Stage Two: Build out a Book Bible.

I use thin A5 Muji notebooks and fill out little character questionnaires for the main characters along with notes about family/friends. I also jot down a loose timeline. I find this helps keep the novel on track, but also with writing newsletters and blog posts once I’m done with the book.

Stage Three: Media.

Before writing, I build two essential lists. A musical playlist, my current WIP has a mostly country music playlist. I also create a TV/movie list. I find watching shows or movies based around the theme of what I’m writing can really help me get in the mood.

For The Royal Marine, for example, I watched a lot of Bake Off. For the Grasmere trilogy, it watched Poirot, of course.

Stage Four: Let’s Play Pretend

This is the stage where I’m usually supposed to be giving myself a writing break, but I’m chomping at the bit to write.

Stage Five: Write

Self-explanatory that involves a lot of coffee, sobbing, and hitting my head against the keyboard.

If you’re a writer, are you a pantser or a plotter?

 

My Travel Bucket List

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As I’m working on my current WIP, Pure Dumb Luck, I’m thinking a lot about travel. Growing up, we travelled a lot. I’ve lived in five countries and visited well over twenty. But, I still have a bucket list of places I’d loved to visit–or revisit in some cases.

  1. Australia
  2. New Zealand
  3. United Kingdom
  4. France
  5. Norway, to visit my cousin.
  6. Alaska
  7. Singapore, even though I lived there for ten years. I’d love to visit again.
  8. Spain
  9. Canada (Vancouver and Prince Edward Island, especially)
  10. Japan

What’s on your travel bucket list?

Location, location, location.

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I don’t know how other authors pick locations. But here’s an insight into how I do it.

1. I’ve lived there (or at least visited.)

Some of the locations featured in my stories are places I’ve been which spoke to me in some way.

Windermere/Grasmere in the Grasmere Trilogy is a prime example. The Lake District, in general, is one of my favourite places in the entire world. If I could live anywhere, it would probably be there.

2. Plot Led.

Found You is probably the greatest example from my books. I knew the story had to be set in Florida. The Keys was honestly the only place that would fit what I had in mind for the novella.

And, I fell in love with the Keys while researching for Found You.

CHICKENS!

3. My Bucket List.

Last, but not least, I pick places I’ve always wanted to visit. When I was younger (6 weeks old to 21 years old), I travelled quite extensively. I’ve been to twenty plus countries and lived in five.

I’ve always had a little bucket list of places I wanted to go. And hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to travel again. It’s been ages since I visited another country.

The Sin Bin is the best example of this one. Cornwall is a place that I’ve always wanted to spend a lot of time at. I think we went there when I was a baby, but I obviously can’t remember, so I don’t count it.

Researching the series was great fun for me because I got to vicariously live in the lovely villages that I’ve longed to see.

I’m sure there are more reasons, but those are definitely my top three.

How about you? If you’re a writer, how do you pick the setting of your story?

For readers, how important is the setting?

A Year of Living Dangerously.

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Alternate titles: Recognising one’s limits.  Or, that time I was young, drunk, and incredibly foolish.

In my early twenties, I spent two years living in the Dominican Republic. I’d flown down to visit a friend for a much needed mental break from life and decided not to come home. It seemed a necessary decision at the time.

I picked up a job as a teacher. I taught English as a Foreign Language at a local institute to classes of kids in the afternoons and adults in the mornings & evenings. At one point, I worked from nine in the morning until 8 or 10 pm at night.

Truth be told, what I really did was teach in between long nights out at the bar with my friends.

I drank.

A lot.

If the bar happened to be close to where I lived, I’d walk home if I couldn’t catch a ride with one of my friends. I’d walk home, at night, after getting drunk off my arse.  It’s quite honestly a miracle that I was never assaulted.

A routine established itself fairly quickly for me. Work hard. Drink harder. Sleep a few hours. Repeat the cycle. Somewhere in the midst of all of it, I managed to pay my rent, save a bit for food (occasionally), though I often drank more than I ate.

Priorities.

I didn’t have time.

By my second year living in Santo Domingo, a dangerous cycle had begun. I always paid my rent. But afterwards, I’d shop. Clothes, CDs, nothing substantial (like food or water for my room that I rented out of this apartment). What I did spend shopping, usually went to nights out.

It wasn’t as if I was making a significant amount to start with, either. I made next to nothing, though likely more than the average worker in the city did. Teaching paid better.

As money dwindled, I started borrowing money, as several of my friends did, as well. I’d do it to get through the month. Pay it back after my next paycheck, and end up having to take more out from the lender to cover what I’d lost (or wasted partying).

In the middle of all of this, I wrote a play. Not only did I write it, but I also worked with some people I knew in the local theatre scene to produce and direct it.  We only did a few shows. Made more than I earned in a couple of months. Did I save any of the money? Of course not, we went through all of the money in a single night out.

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I mentioned the vicious cycle, right?

On my twenty-first birthday, I had to acknowledge to myself that I’d sunken into a genuinely dangerous place. I’d started to have dizzy spells. A doctor even took me out of work for a few days.

I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough–and taking far too much alcohol into my body.

I’d like to say I immediately changed. It took about three more months of sinking deeper. Fear had caught a hold of me, though. I didn’t want to know what rock bottom might be.

In one of the rare instances of impulsivity in my life, I made the decision to leave. I tendered my resignation, bought a plane ticket with borrowed money, and within a month I’d left. I returned to the States, got a job, and cut back on the drinking.

So here are a few lessons I learned in my years of living dangerously:

  • You’re spending should never exceed your income.
  • Drinking yourself into a stupor is playing Russian roulette with your safety.
  • There are some incredibly good people in this world, who will look out for you.
  • It’s harder to pick yourself up than it is to knock yourself down.

Those two years in the Caribbean weren’t all doom and gloom. Here are some truly amazing things I did:

  • Travelled all over the Dominican Republic (extraordinarily beautiful place).
  • Made life long friends and have some brilliant memories.
  • Had my horizons expanded.
  • Added playwright to my list of accomplishments.
  • Spent time with some intensely talented artists, musicians, and writers.

Even with all the insanity, not sure I’d change a bit of the experience.

What’s the most foolish thing you’ve ever done?

 

 

The #AspieAuthor Guide to Travel

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Or, how I make flying easier on myself as an aspie.

I’ve traveled a lot in m life, and have learned the hard way that it can be very painful for myself to fly. So here’s a list of things I do to help myself.  It’s not comprehensive, but…it might help you.

– Purchase ticket online early.

I know I find being seated either by the window or aisle works best. I don’t like sitting in the middle and I prefer to be in the front of the plane as opposed to the back.

By getting my ticket early, it means I have a better chance of selecting the perfect seat.

– Arrive Early.

It allows me to check in early, get to the gate early and get through security without a crowd.

– Getting Through Security

Take off all jewelry, things from my pockets, etc and put in the front pocket of my carry-on backpack.  Wear sneakers that I can easily slide on and off.  Don’t wear a belt.

– Check in online if possible(or at the kiosk inside the airport).

Means no lines, no drama, no having to talk to people at counter.

– Headphones.

Bring headphones and an iPod (or kindle or tablet).  Even if I’m not listening to music, it looks like I am.

– Distractions.

I always bring a back-pack on the plane with me.  I put a change of clothes (or all my clothes I’m bringing if it’s short trip), notebooks, pens, books and fidget toys.  If the flight is long, I’m going to need them.

– Clothes.

Dress in my most comfortable clothing.  I’m not there to impress perfect strangers.  I’m trying to get through a stressful thing without a meltdown.  Ensuring my clothing is comfortable is one less thing to worry about.

– On the subject of packing.

Check the TSA guidelines out carefully for carry-on luggage. Nothing stresses me out more than getting something wrong and having to throw stuff out to get through security.

– Food/Water

Wait to buy water/snacks until you get through security. There’s always little stores/restaurants near the gates.

– Reserve Energy

I know people are going to talk to me either on the plane, or at the gate.  It’s going to happen.  So have a quiet evening the night before, indulge in my special interests to recharge my batteries so I’m capable of handling it.

– Lotion

Keep lotion handy in backpack.  My hands get itchy and can cause sensory overload. Lotion helps that quite a bit.

– Remember to say Thank You.

It goes a long way with airline employees. Be polite.

Seems silly to remind myself of that, but I’ve found as an Aspie, sometimes I get lost in my head and social niceties don’t come naturally to me.  I’m not trying to be rude, I just don’t always remember that I should say things like good morning, etc.