Confidence is a weird thing for us Neurodivergent types. We spend our childhoods being told that we’re doing everything wrong. Then we become either timid, or rebellious teens, and whichever we choose that’s wrong too. Then we’re anxious adults desperately pretending to be whomever it is that everyone is expecting us to be. And then some bastard tells us that the secret to confidence is to “just be yourself.”
A lot of people who know me would tell you that I must have overcome that because I’m very confident now. It’s not true. I haven’t felt genuine confidence since I was three years old. I was a very confident toddler but it was all wasted then. When you’re three it doesn’t really count as confidence, it’s just being bossy.
What I do know is to fake confidence. I worked out a while ago that most people can’t tell the difference between real confidence and fake confidence. Fake confidence is easier than it seems too. At least 80% of fake confidence is deciding not to fear looking like an idiot. A further 10% is knowing how to step back from mistakes that make you look like an idiot in a graceful enough way that people forget what mistake you made. The rest of it is mostly just being simultaneously loud and polite.
Of course there’s the other kind of confidence – the confidence in something. So how would I rate my confidence in, say, my writing? Simultaneously very high and rock bottom. My default belief about my own writing is somehow both that I’m a genius and I should be a millionaire and winner of all the literary prizes, and also that I’m the worst kind of hack and I’m lucky that anyone reads anything I write.
I hate this question so much but I imagine that to many of my readers it seems entirely innocuous. I want to unpack some of the unpleasant baggage this question is carrying around.
What someone means when they ask this question is “What do you do for work?” but that’s not really what they’re asking. This question is an invitation to justify your existence and to reveal your class and status. I think a lot of people don’t really mean it like that. They’re asking it as an icebreaker and they think the worst thing about it is how bland it is. It doesn’t feel bland to someone who’s struggled with unemployment.
Back when I could still work I often didn’t because I couldn’t persuade anyone to employ me. It’s hard not to take unemployment personally. It feels like everyone else can get a job and that you’re stuck at home being a drain on society. Being unemployed can feel like you’re failing at the most basic things about adulthood. And then you’re introduced to a new person and the first thing they do is to ask you what your job is.
“What do you do?”
If you’re choosing not to work because of your mental health then this question feels like an attack. How can your mental health be incompatible with work? How dare you prioritise your wellbeing over your economic value.
If you can’t work outside the home because you’re a carer, either for children or for vulnerable adults, then this question is a chance to be reminded that nobody regards caring as “real work”.
If you’re an artist of any kind then this question is a reminder that not only do people not think art is a “real job” but they also don’t think that artists should get paid.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an artist/writer/actor/film maker.”
“No but what do you really do? What do you do for money?”
If you’re retired, or if you can’t work because you’re disabled, then this question is another reminder that your not a real person in the eyes of a lot of your peers. That’s why people are happy to pretend that the pandemic is over. They’ve convinced themselves that it’s only the old or the sick that have to worry about dying and that’s not a problem because…
A lot of people making this calculation don’t even finish the thought. They don’t really confront what they’re saying by equating someone’s value with their ability to work. They certainly haven’t thought about the fact that many elderly and disabled people do actually work, or contribute to our societies in other ways. It’s a mental dead end that prevents them from absorbing the horror of the idea that almost all of us will become worthless to capitalism eventually and that when that happens we’ll be an abstract on the other side of a string of dots
Excuse me while I get the hollow laughter out of the way.
Of course I don’t believe in fate or destiny. If I did I’d have no option but to lay down and die. That’s the kind of destiny that people like me get. We die tragically in the background, or we endure in suffering in order to serve as a good example.
There’s no place for me in the future unless I chose to make one. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m ugly and I’m disabled. If I’m in a story it’s as a bad guy. In fact I am in a story as a bad guy. I’m on the news as a bad guy quite often. Not me personally but both fat people and disabled people are regular bad guys on various news programs.
Of course when I was a teenager I thought that my weight was standing between me and my destiny. I wanted to do big, important things and I knew that fat people, particularly fat women, didn’t get to do big, important things. I thought that if I lost enough weight then maybe Destiny would come calling.
That did not happen. I did lose weight but nothing changed. My weight was not the fundamental problem of my life that I had been told it was. Destiny wasn’t calling because Destiny doesn’t exist. Destiny is just a scam made up to sell horoscopes and persuade people to stay at home and wait for change rather than going out and making it happen.
Yes, I am also surprised that I’m still going. I’m even more surprised that people are actually reading. Not a huge number of people to be sure but more than just me and my spouse.
I’m publishing two stories via Royal Road. The first is A Kindness of Ravens, a tale of sexy spies and Celtic gods all tangled up with death and murder and a little light isekai. It’s complete already so it’s just a matter of scheduling the chapters to go live on the website. It seems to be going well. Breaking it down into bite-sized chunks has forced me to really look at it and admit to myself that it is actually good. So good that I have trouble believing that I actually wrote it even though I remember doing it.
The second story is The Waters of the Dune Sea, a fantasy LitRPG story of foundlings and sky piracy. There’s quite a lot of world building going on. I’m writing this one as I go, which is making it harder to stick to any kind of upload schedule. I’m loath to try and create one because I worry it will just become an excuse to post the chapters before they’re ready.
TWotDS is an exercise in pushing myself to try new things but it’s also a possible on-ramp for telling stories in a world that I’ve been thinking of for a long time. I can’t work out if my willingness to try this is me being bold and experimental or if it’s me giving up on the idea of success. It doesn’t feel like giving up but maybe that’s just my brain lying to me.
Of course it’s always possible that all this activity is just me procrastinating. Am I filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of busywork so I don’t feel bad about all the stuff that I’m not doing?
Maybe, but I am genuinely not sure I care. It feels like the world is on fire and either nothing matters or everything does, Either way, I can’t fix any of it
There’s a competition on Royal Road. For shorter fictions from the prompt “Uncharted Waters”. I decided this was a perfect prompt to write a story to introduce the world to my Sky Pirates of the Dune Sea setting. That’s me. You say water and I think of a story set in the heart of a giant desert.
The first part is up already. Most of it’s not written yet so this is kind of like dictating a story while crossing a high wire. Also I’m moving house this week. So it’s like dictating a story while crossing a high wire in a strong wind while people watch and shout “Fall!” at you.
Okay it’s not quite like that. There’s very little risk of death or serious injury. No more than the regular risk of death or serious injury that haunts me as a potter around my house. Anyway, I give you the cover image of my new work. It’s more of a placeholder than the cover image of Kindness of Ravens but I’m still fairly pleased with it.
The Waters of the Dune Sea
If you’ve been enjoying all this free content then you might consider buying me a coffee over on Ko-fi. I’m working on setting up membership tiers there and also setting up a Patreon.
As the pandemic continues, and Lockdown looms again, I’m increasingly hearing people complain about the idea of forcing healthy people to take precautions in order to protect the vulnerable. Well fuck you too.
Sorry. Was that a bit rude? This discourse is making me a little tense. You see I’m one of the vulnerable. I’m disabled and I have a couple of medical conditions that put me at a particular risk from COVID-19. When you say, “It’s not that dangerous. It’s only the sick and the elderly at risk.” I hear “I don’t care if you die so long as I am not inconvenienced.”
I care. I don’t just care about my own life. I care about my children, who’ve been pretty clear that they’d like me to stick around a bit longer. I care about my elderly mother and my uncles and aunts. I care about your elderly relatives even if you don’t. I care about my sick and disabled friends. I care about the medical professionals who’ll have to try and save us if we do catch it. I care about the NHS that could really do without the additional strain.
It’s not going to kill you to stay away from the pub a bit longer, or to wear a mask in public, or to have a quiet Christmas. Those sacrifices are definitely better than a few weeks of pneumonia which is a common effect of COVID-19 even for healthy people.
Anyway I feel I should be compensated for having to find out how many people don’t care if i die. So I designed a thing.
It’s available on clothing, stickers, tote bags and, of course, masks. All profits to me, so I can pay my bills.
Technology has been such a boon for writers. In a single lifetime we’ve seen multiple hurdles between the writer and success either completely destroyed or considerably lowered.
When I first thought of writing as a career the typewriter was still king, though it was increasingly an electric typewriter, and there were already dedicated word processors, and even a few early adopters writing on computers. Being a writer meant going through a lot of paper. Querying meant paying to send a precious physical copy of your novel through the post. Backing up your work required carbon paper or access to a photocopier.
That era lasted longer than you think. Even once it became common for writers to own computers or high end word processors we had to be aware that dot matrix printer outs were not acceptable for the finished manuscript. We had to shell out for other printers which were invariably noisier, less flexible or more expensive. We had to know that because it wasn’t acceptable to submit a floppy disk and even if you could work out how to email a whole novel no agent or publisher would look at it.
Now we live at a time when you can, if you really need to, write a novel on a mobile phone and send it to an agent or publisher using a coffee shop’s free wifi. The only upfront cost is the phone and a maybe a couple of quid for the writing app.
And yet I’m still looking for the perfect solution to some of my writing problems. I write most of my novels using a program called Scrivener. It’s very useful for structuring and outlining and for writing the earlier drafts. It can back up to Dropbox automatically and I can work on the same file using my PC and my iPad (though not at the same time). It’s very reasonably priced and it’s even cheaper if you win NaNoWriMo. The one place where it falls down is when it comes to collaboration. You can’t have the same Scrivener project open on two different devices simultaneously. That means it’s harder to work on something as a team and it’s less useful for sharing with beta readers and editors.
When I get to the beta stage I compile the Scrivener project as an RTF or a word document and then open it in Google Docs. Google Docs is great for collaboration. You can have multiple people typing on the same document at the same time. Where it falls down is in organising the parts of a project. With a really big project like a long novel or a Tabletop RPG book you only have two options. Keep the whole thing in a single, unwieldy file, or break it up into parts and then risk getting confused about the order of things.
What I need is something that allows me to build a project file full of discrete scenes, notes, timelines, research and also to have two or more people working on it simultaneously. If I can easily turn the separate scenes into a single narrative document for beta readers to look at that would be great. If it can export to a Microsoft word doc for sending to agents that would be excellent.
Maybe you’re wondering why I need that? Well, I have two projects in mind that are going to require a certain level of collaboration. In both cases I’m going to be doing most of the actual typing but I’m going to need input from other people.
One is a very complicated heist narrative that requires a lot of world building. I’ve already mentioned that in This is Not a Project File. The nature of the narrative will require some non-linear storytelling. A lot of things will be happening simultaneously and these things will be linked to events in the past that will need to be fit into the narrative somewhere. Therefore I need to be able to write in a lot of little scenes that I can move around easily. That’s the sort of writing that Scrivener works well with. But I also need a detailed timeline and Scrivener doesn’t have one of those built in. I can always produce one using different software and then import it into Scrivener as an image. But what I can’t do is allow my collaborator into the Scrivener project file to work on the world building and background stuff unless I first close Scrivener on my computer and then go and do something else instead.
The other thing that I’m thinking about is at the extremely early stages and I hesitate to even mention it. Partly because it’s such a cliche. But I am exploring the idea of doing a podcast. A fiction podcast. It will tell a bunch of linked stories but doing the idea justice is beyond what I can do alone. I have friends that I can call upon to get involved. But first I have to solve the problem of workflow. How can we work together?
There’s a part of me that thinks that it’s ridiculous that I’m having any trouble with this. In previous generations people collaborated by letter. They sent each other handwritten maps and timelines. They typed stuff up on flimsy carbon copy sheets so they could pass their work around. If they were suddenly struck by a brilliant plot idea they might even send it via telegram. I have the luxury of text and email to keep in touch with my creative friends.
As things stand I have no solution in mind. I’m open to suggestions but I suspect that I’m going to end up cobbling something together out of multiple programs and web apps.
I love names. However I’m aware that I’m not very good at them. The names of my stories are a bit hit and miss, and it’s a part of world-building where I feel I have a lot of room for improvement.
In fiction the names of things are an excellent place for environmental storytelling and stealth lore dumping. In the real world names can carry all sorts of meaning. A place name can seem offensive until you research the origin, and find out that the name comes from some completely wholesome, long obsolete word. Or it can seem bland, but have some epic or terrible tale tied to it.
You can walk down a street every day for years, and only be dimly aware that the street name sounds like a surname. You just assume that it’s named after some local worthy, or the landowner who commissioned the first buildings, or some business that was once a local landmark. Then one day you find out that it’s named after a slave trader, or a war criminal, or a man posthumously revealed to be a rapist, and it doesn’t feel like the same street anymore.
And then there’s how they sound, and how that sound changes over time. In Scotland we have a lot of place names that are accidental shibboleths. Cults, Maryculter and Alford are all places in Aberdeenshire. Guess which ones have a silent L. If you have trouble with the CH in loch and the R in Aberdeen you’re going to struggle with Garioch. Particularly since it’s pronounced ‘Geerie’. You have to be pretty Scottish to pronounce Aberchirder correctly. You have to be really local to know everyone actually calls it Foggyloan or Foggy.
So let’s talk about why there’s a mountain called Lochnagar when everyone knows that loch means lake. When I was growing up my Uncle John told me that it wasn’t the real name. He said that the real name was so rude that someone invented that name out of embarrassment when Queen Victoria asked what the mountain was called and they didn’t want to explain the real name.
When I was ten that seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation and I barely thought about it for years. Until I mentioned it to my spouse and realised that I’d never heard that from anyone other than my Uncle John. So I looked it up and, well, there’s no mention of Queen Victoria but…
The English language name is listed as Lochnagar and the Gaelic as Beinn Chìochan. My first thought on reading that was that Chiochan would be a bugger for any non gaelic speaker to pronounce so maybe that’s why the change.
Then I read, “Technically, the English name is a misunderstanding, being named after Lochan na Gaire, the ‘little loch of the noisy sound’, a loch to be found in the mountain’s northeast corrie.” So that made sense, someone misheard Lochan na Gaire as Lochnagar and they just went with it because the real Gaelic name is so hard to say. That made far more sense than that the real name was too rude for the Victorians.
Reading on I found this gem, “The summit itself may be referred to as Cac Càrn Beag”. Which means ‘small cairn of feces’, or in colloquial English, ‘little pile of shit’.
Oh. Well maybe they did find the name a bit rude. I wonder what Beinn Chìochan means?
It means ‘mountain of breasts’.
You know what? If I were a 19th Century Ghillie and Queen Victoria pointed to what I knew to be Little Pile of Shit peak on Boob Mountain and asked what it was called I’d probably pretend she was pointing to the sun glinting off the small body of water near the peak and say “Lochan na Gaire, your Majesty. It means ‘little loch of the noisy sound’,” and then find something else to do before she could ask me why the mountain is named after a lake.
As I write this the world is on fire (mostly metaphorically but there are a few literal hot spots). There’s a clown in the White House and a buffoon in 10 Downing Street. The whole world faces the crisis of a novel virus which is just deadly enough to kill a lot of people but not quite deadly enough for the average layperson to instinctively fear it.
You know what absolutely nobody needs right now? Yet another (so far) unpublished author spewing dubious entertainment in an effort to get you all to (some day) buy my books. On the other hand it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do today. How about you?
I suppose my first job with this blog should be to make it clear where I stand on certain issues. I’d hate for anyone to follow me based on some inaccurate assumptions about what a white GenX woman like me might believe.
Black Lives Matter
If your feminism isn’t intersectional then it’s worthless
Independence for Scotland
Climate change is real and dangerous
Vaccines cause adults
Disabled rights are human rights
The scientific method isn’t perfect but it’s still the best game in town
Now we’ve got all the big important stuff out of the way let’s talk about the other stuff that I believe. The stuff above is the stuff that I absolutely will end a friendship over. Everything else is just a matter of opinion.
I like swearing and I think that in the right context it is both funny and clever. I understand if you don’t and I won’t try very hard to persuade you otherwise but you might find that you don’t enjoy this blog. You might also dislike many, but not all, of the books that I’ve written.
I like it when there are moments of humour amidst the darkness. I try to put that in my writing. I can see how that wouldn’t be for everyone. I just hope you’ll understand that if I use humour at times when you find joking inappropriate then I’ve done it as a deliberate stylistic choice and not out of ineptitude.
I believe that since this is my website I can write what I want in it. I make the rules here the same way that I make the rules in my home. I’m open to suggestions in the same way that I’m open to suggestions about different ways to do things at home. It’s still on me to make the final decisions.
So here we are. Well, here I am. It’s really only me. Shouting into the void and hoping that someone will hear. Sometimes I feel like blogging is like keeping a personal diary but hanging it from the town noticeboard.
I’m going to stop writing this post now. I’ve been trying to work out how to bring it to a close for more than an hour now and this is the best I can do.