Fear of Failure

Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when you want to do something. You may disagree, but it’s true, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. (It took me a few minutes to come up with that opening line for fear or getting it wrong).

As I sat here this morning, wanting to write and finding myself constantly distracted I came back to this idea. Every time we try to do something hard, or challenging, we as humans often try and find something else to do in its stead. Take for example, this very blog post. I really should be writing my novel, but instead I thought I would share my infinite wisdom with you, whether you like it or not.

We often don’t attempt things because we are scared of failing at them. Throughout our education, we’re warned off by failure, rather than encouraged by success. As such, there seems to be a general consensus that “If you don’t try, you can’t fail.” Which does seem somewhat backward, but it’s definitely out there. I often don’t blog because I’m scared that people might disagree with what I have to say, or probably more accurately, that no one will read it. Low blog stats or the most depressing thing for a writer. (Okay, maybe not the most depressing! But it still sucks.)

I don’t suffer from writer’s block, I suffer from fear. When I sit down to write, what stops me isn’t not knowing what to write (though my brain often tries to convince me that’s true.) I always outline my stories and know where they are going. It’s to do with the fact that I’m worried that it will be crap.

This all reminds me of a panel I went to at a convention, entitled “Fear and Writing” (Or something along those lines). It was hosted by Emma Newman (@emapocalyptic), who I believe was a teacher. One sentence she said then has stuck with me ever since: “Give yourself permission to write shit.” Which is probably one of the most important pieces of advice a writer can receive.

It’s okay to write crap, you can improve it. You can’t improve what isn’t there, no matter how awesome it might be in your head.

There are two types of writers “pantsers” (see: flying by the seat of your pants) or outliners. Both work fine if you can convince yourself to write and just write, then come back and edit it later, polishing it until it is as good as it deserves to be.

I do know of writers who “close edit” while they write, which is fine. It works for them, and they have learnt how to work that way in what I can only assume is a pretty exhausting and time consuming manner.

However if you find yourself sitting in front of a blank screen, convinced that you don’t know where the story goes. “Give yourself permission to write shit”. I dare say once you’ve got that first draft it will be better than you expected. Besides, you can always get out that red pen and start turning it into the masterpiece you envisaged.

I’ll leave you with an analogy. I always like to use sculpture as a defining point of art: A sculptor can chip away at stone and make a fantastic piece of art, but he can’t sculpt if he doesn’t have any stone.

Now I really should get back to writing that novel, huh?

Thanks for reading!

Far Worlds Released!

I meant to blog a few days ago, but I’ve been ill. Oh boy, have I been ill! 4 boxes of man size tissues was not enough to stall this manflu of epic proportions and getting up from the sofa still makes me feel dizzy. On Tuesday I had to drag my sorry arse to the driving theory test centre and spent a horrible 40 minutes curled over the desk. Thankfully I passed. I didn’t fancy having to do that again. (I already passed about ten years ago, but stopped pursuing the practical test after a couple of harsh fails.)

But that’s not the only good thing that happened on Tuesday, no!

Far Worlds was released.

Those of you that have been reading my blog regularly will know of this already, but Far Worlds is a speculative fiction anthology in which I have a story. Its been published by the lovely people of the Bolthole and is currently available on Kindle, here and will be available, I’m told, in paperback next month.

I just love the artwork for this book:

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I mean, look at it, how awesome is that? It’s a shame my kindle is black and white. I will be getting a paperback of it!

As part of the promotion for the book, the editors posted an excerpt from each story on the books Facebook page. So I might as well share the excerpt from my story again. Also, each story has its own internal illustration. Manuel Mesones (You can find him here) has done a fantastic job with each of these. I won’t tell you which character this is, but you can all guess in the comments.

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What he saw astounded him. He had uncovered a metal construction, approximately one metre in length, curved at one end. The most startling thing about the object was that it was fire-blackened from one end running along its surface, removing all detail, scouring it into a smooth plate. He had no idea what it was or where it had come from; he hadn’t seen anything like it before in his career. But whatever it was, he was sure of one thing.

 

It wasn’t from this world.

 

I hope that makes you want to go and read the story and please feel free to add your feedback and comments on here, Amazon or on Goodreads.

Once again, thanks for reading and I hope to be back with some more news soon!

 

 

Far Worlds

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, not quite believing it was true or trusting my own eyes, but I can now tell you: I have a story coming out!

My story ‘Endaris’ will feature in a science fiction anthology called ‘Far Worlds’ published by the lovely group at the Bolthole. (You can find the Facebook page by clicking here) It’s released on the 25th of March and you’ll find more about that over at the page.

I’m really excited about this, not only because you will all finally be able to read my story, but because of all the other stories that are coming out with it. There are thirteen stories included, not to mention the flash fiction that accompanies them.

The premise was to write a story based far away from Earth (without any link at all actually) and that in itself requires the building and writing of each writers own unique culture and characters. I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow writers have come up with in their rich and fascinating worlds. I don’t want to give too much away about my story (you have to read it!), but I found the premise an interesting challenge. My world touched on new ground for me as a writer, far from the bright and shiny future dystopias I am used to writing. Instead I grounded it in a real world culture. A cookie for the first to get it right! (there may not be any actual cookies). To say anymore would give far too much away. There is also an overruling plot device, but again you’ll have to work that out for yourselves.

The editorial process was fascinating; realising what things other people can see in your story and helping to bring them out. If you were to look at the first draft then at the published piece, I think you would be amazed. It can also be good for the ego, when an editor tells you they love a particular part, but also crushing when something you wanted to show just didn’t come across. But it is always better for the story. You may feel precious about some parts, but that can be detrimental as writing a story is more often than not about how the reader reads your work.

The eagle eyed amongst you may be able to find an extract from Endaris in a previous blog. I’ll leave you to sift through, but I warn you it may be quite different!

That’s all from me for now.

Please go and take a look at the page to keep up to date with the publication and there are also some freebies on there in the shape of artwork and flash fiction stories.

Once again, thanks for reading!

The Long War

Hello! I felt like it was time for a blog update. This time it’s not so much about writing, but something slightly different.

At the weekend I went to my first doubles tournament at Warhammer World. Which was a great experience (despite some awful powergaming by some grumpy bastards from Leeds.) Even though we didn’t win a game, we still had a great time and there were a couple of hilarious games. One including a complete vendetta against my Heldrake, which resulted in a draw. My team-mate Chris played Dark Eldar so I decided to start my Chaos army. Had I know they were desperate allies, which severely hindered us, I would have chosen something else.

As part of the tournament there is an award for the army list. so I decided to write a story for it as follows:

The Long War

By Michael J. Hollows

THE CATHEDRAL BURST into a ball of pyrotechnic fury as stained glass windows exploded from the pressure change. Brother-Sergeant Amatius didn’t see where the shell had come from as he proceeded on foot into the vast nave, his back to the firer. His squad fanned out either side of him, bolters blaring at the unseen enemy. Smoke and the smell of cordite hung in the air. The stained glass fell from the windows, crashing amongst the knocked over pews as screams pierced the gloomy air. They weren’t the screams of glass-cut agony, but screams of delight.

A group of warriors, clad in spiked blue armour, rushed the Space Marines from the aisles. Splinters from their rifles peppered the cathedral and lodged in the wooden seats. The Ultramarines ducked behind what cover they could find, but brother Portius was thrown from his feet by the force of a blow. The splinters stuck out from his armour at jaunty angles and he knocked them away with a sweep of a vambrace before crawling towards a plascrete pillar.

Amatius returned fire with his boltgun and the two nearest eldar disappeared in a cloud of thick, arterial gore. Vertebrae hammered the pews as the aliens were blown apart by the concentrated fire. To his left, Caius discharged his meltagun, liquid fire cooking the last of the onrushing aliens. The Codex Astartes was clear in this situation and he was confident his brothers would clear out the cathedral in an efficient manner.

A grinding of metal on concrete behind him made Amatius turn. An Ultramarines Vindicator was crossing the threshold of the cathedral, entering the nave and adding its thick exhaust fumes to the smokey interior. What was it doing; entering the building with a vehicle was madness. Amatius tried to raise the commander on the vox, but was met with white static. He waved at the vehicle to slow and the vox suddenly flared into a scream of feedback, overloading his auto-senses. Amatius ripped his helmet from his armour throwing it to the floor in disgust, dulling the vox squeal. He looked up, regaining his composure, as another shell flew through the air and detonated sending out a wave of high pressure that squeezed against his skull.

Shrapnel spread across the room and Portius cried out as scalding-hot metal ripped through his leg, severing the bone. Bright blood pooled around the stricken Ultramarine.

Amatius tried to reach his comrade, but was forced back by the sea of eldar warriors. Madness, he thought. What had got into the Vindicator’s commander? This wasn’t the Ultramarines way, they had strict codes and doctrines that prevented this kind of folly.

He dodged another attack and brought his chainsword up in reply. The spinning metal blades made easy work of the eldar warrior and sprayed blood across his deep blue armour.

Amatius looked for Portius, but he was still on the ground as enemy warriors crowded him. He fought back furiously with combat knife and fist, breaking through armour like paper, but they would soon overwhelm him. Malius was the nearest Ultramarine to Portius, pinned behind a pillar to the squad’s right.

‘Malius, break through to Portius and engage a withdrawal, now!’ Amatius shouted, the vox hardly necessary in the acoustics of the cathedral. The Space Marine looked back in the sergeant’s direction, and shook his head slowly from side to side.

What was he doing? Portius needed his support.

Amatius tried to edge closer, but the eldar still blocked his path. He hacked and slashed with his chainsword, pushing the aliens back, but their numbers weren’t thinning. The eldar had lured them into this trap and their only way out was by forming an organised withdrawal past the Vindicator, but first they would need to regroup and cover each other.

He unclipped a grenade from the mag-lock at his waist and primed the fuse. While fending off the aliens with his chainsword, pushing the blade into their faces, blood splattering, he lobbed the grenade in an overarm throw. Amatius hoped it would cause enough damage in the close confines to confuse the enemy.

With a crack of releasing pressure the grenade detonated. Body parts and blood flew through the air in deep crimson droplets, decorating the scene in a macabre hue. The remaining eldar hissed and wheeled on the spot, retreating further into the church.

Amatius signalled to his men to regroup on his position, but before they could respond he rushed to where Portius lay. The Space Marine was a ruined mess where he had fallen, breaking a pew in half as it collapsed underneath his weight. The sergeant checked for life signs, but there were none. He sighed and placed the warriors weapon on his chest, before clasping Portius’s lifeless hands around the hilt.

He looked up at his men, but only Caius and Praxis stood by him.

‘Where are the others?’ he asked, before standing to look for himself.

As Amatius gained a view of the cathedral nave, he saw Malius walking away in the direction the eldar fled, his bolter relaxed in his gauntlet down by his side.

‘Malius, what are you doing? Regroup!’ he shouted after his brother.

The Ultramarine didn’t respond, but kept walking as the sound of the Vindicator revving it’s engines drowned out the Sergeant’s protests.

Malius’s armour-mounted speaker elicited a hiss followed by a deep, resonant voice Amatius didn’t recognise.

‘Not Malius.’ He paused in his tracks and looked back, deep green-tinted lenses boring into his sergeant’s skull. ‘I am Alpharius.’ he said as the next wave of eldar warriors pushed past him, like a tide around rocks. Splinter rifles spat their charges once more.

The last sound that Sergeant Amatius of the Ultramarines 6th Company heard was the deep rumble of a shell exploding as the traitorous Vindicator finally lowered its aim.

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Comedy you say? I’ve never heard of him!

Back to the writing! in this weeks class we had some great exercises orchestrated by the thoroughly interesting Peter Salmon. The aussie author used to work and teach at a writing retreat so he had plenty of great advice for us. I have to say though, a lot of what he said seemed to contradict what I have learnt over the last year. Mainly his idea that you just write, don’t outline, let your imagination guide you and then do the research and fact checking during the editing stage. I think the main thing I have to learn from this is that everyone crafts differently. At the Black Library weekender one of the key suggestions was to outline everything and so the last few weeks I have been writing rough outlines for the stories I’m writing. I think in the long run this will help me get a better handle on those particular stories. If I ever struggle for an idea I will just put pen to paper as Peter suggested and see what happens. 

The first exercise we did involved writing down something we loved. Then write down a gender and age. Pass the thing you love to your left and the gender to the right. Thusly I ended up with a 32 year old male who loved technology. My immediate response was ‘I can work with this.’ We were then given some time (I can’t recall how much!) to start a story with this character. The following, as yet, untitled piece is what resulted:

 

 

David looked vacantly into thin air as the phone rang incessantly on the hook. He wouldn’t answer it. It would be the same old rubbish as before and the time before that. They would get bored and hang up eventually. Then only the really struggling ones would come down and see him, trying to drag him away from his task.

He looked at the phone, disgusted as the imperial march played its last beat. His colleagues often wondered how he’d managed to set the ringtone. The force works in mysterious ways.

David had thought about disconnecting it, but someone would notice. He didn’t fancy getting in trouble again. Forget that.

He pushed the phone to one side and covered it in papers, anything to keep it away. Now hidden, out of hands-reach and twin monitors he carried on his work. The important work that is.

One once screen the black and green of a Unix coding screen, the other halfway through a raid, his elfin princess resplendent in kicking butt.

Meaty fists hammered the keyboard as he worked away. Deftly inserting code with the left, repeatedly tapping the ‘1’ key with the right. Who said men couldn’t multitask?

A message pop-up popped-up annoyingly over is game window and he brushed it away with a click. Some other idiot on floor five, who couldn’t open their disk drive and probably thought the tab key was a drinks ordering facility. He once met someone who was scared of the space bar.

‘forward-slash pizza,’ he chuckled to himself, second chin wobbling in sympathetic irony.

Over the rumble of his laughter he heard the door to the office open and close with a click, but his dismissed it as he had the pop-up, with a lazy sweep of the hand. 

 

You can probably see the influences already, but I had in my mind this IT guy that was fairly disgruntled and felt he had a higher calling. It then turned into a sort of comedy piece. I’ve never written comedy before, and as Peter suggested we try to go outside our comfort zone, I thought ‘why not?’ I don’t know if its any good, or if people would find it funny, but I have an idea of where I want to go with this and I think I will write it at some point. It may change drastically from what you see here, as it is, in its first draft. It’ll be a kind of spoof. That’s all I’m saying. 

The next task was to give this character, well, a character. Peter asked us a series of questions about the character and we had to write the first thing that came to mind. He didn’t ask us to share the answers and I don’t think I will as I want to write him first without giving too much away. But if people ask nicely I may change my mind. 

The third and final task was to write down a list of 50 things about a person close to you. I chose my mum and as such chose not to read any of it out. (I will read out something in class soon, promise!)

And that was that for the day. 

I’m off to carry on writing about a Far World, intersected with lunch and probably staring out of the window. Hopefully I will be able to tell you more about that soon! (its a great view) I mean the story, silly! 

Thanks for reading.

Keep reading, keep writing.