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I’M GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!!

Phew! Glad I got that out of my system. There was probably a classier way to announce that but I don’t care – this is the kind of announcement you only get to make once in your life and I fully intend to milk it for all it’s worth!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now, but every time I sat down to do it, I felt completely overwhelmed. How can I possibly put into words what the last few weeks have meant to me? I mean, I am fulfilling a lifelong dream… that’s pretty mad! It’s all felt a but surreal and, frankly, like a big practical joke is being played on me and eventually someone is going to pop out from behind a wall and yell “Fooled you!”.

I figure the best way to order my thoughts is through the good old 5W method – who, what, when, where, why?

Who did you manage to trick into publishing you?

Well, only Ireland’s leading independent publisher The O’Brien freakin’ Press! O’Brien Press has been in the book biz for over fifty years and in that time, they’ve published what are some of the defining books of my childhood such as Under the Hawthorn Tree by the legendary Marita Conlon-McKenna, Run With the Wind by Tom McCaughren, and Strongbow by Morgan Llywelyn. O’Brien Press also published one of my favourite books of 2020, Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran. As you can imagine, it’s extremely exciting for me to share a publisher with these authors! And I truly think O’Brien Press is the best home for this book. I could NOT be happier.

What are they publishing?

My first novel! It’s a children’s book (middle grade or MG for my North American pals)….aaand that’s about all I can say right now! Yup. I’m not actually allowed to talk about it currently which is both hilarious and kind of makes me feel like a spy. I promise, once I’m allowed to talk about it you won’t be able to shut me up. But let me just say that it’s a story that means a lot to me. I poured a lot of myself and my own life into it and I’m so so SO proud that this is the first work I get to share with the world.

When will your book-spawn be unleashed unto this earth?

Right now it’s slated for autumn 2022 which feels like a billion years away, but there’s a whole lot of stuff that needs to happen first – I need to go through the editing process, a cover needs to be designed, the book needs to be copy edited and proofread and typeset and printed… yeah, publishing is a LOT of work. Plus, O’Brien has a pretty small team and they put out quite a few books a year so it’s only fair that I wait my turn.

As I move through the publishing process I’d love to take you all along for the journey and give some insight into what actually goes on behind the scenes, so keep an eye out for that!

Where will I be able to find said book?

Well definitely Ireland, but beyond that, who knows? I’d obviously adore it if a North American publisher picked the book up. It would be pretty cool to be able to walk into a bookshop here in Toronto and see my book-baby staring back at me. It’s also a bit of a dream to be published in another language but we’ll see…Anyway, we do live in a digital age and I’ve found Irish bookshops to be AMAZING at shipping abroad so if you’re interested and you don’t live in Ireland, there will be ways and means to get your grubby mitts on it…

No offence but…Why you?

Good question and one I’ve been asking myself for months now (I have low self esteem). The truth is, I don’t entirely know why. A lot of it is down to luck and timing and yes, my own hard work for actually writing a book in the first place, but the fact that OBP (that’s what us cool kids call O’Brien Press…presumably) even laid eyes on the manuscript in the first place is due in no small part to my friend Gráinne O’Brien.

Gráinne is not only one of my favourite people and my frequent collaborator (we founded Silver Apples together), she is also the genius behind Rontu Literary Service, a coaching and manuscript assessment service for writers of children’s fiction. When I told her that I was working on a children’s book, she placed her substantial knowledge of the children’s publishing industry at my feet and not only helped me to make the manuscript better, she became a tireless advocate for the book, recommending it to OBP.

If my three-chapter extract hadn’t come with her recommendation, they might not have read it as quickly as they did and it may still be languishing in the slush pile. So yes, that’s something I want to make clear from the off – I don’t think they would have published me if they hadn’t like what they read (they are a business after all and businesses don’t tend to pity-publish) but having the support of someone like Gráinne was enormously helpful in getting my manuscript noticed in the first place. If you’re a children’s or YA writer looking for some guidance, definitely check her out.

So yeah, that’s it. That’s all my news for now. I was in a very bad place for a while (not just for the pandemic) and in the course of a few weeks, things have really turned a corner for me. Not just with regard to the book, but in other areas of my life as well. If you’re in a similar position, all I can say is this – please keep trying and keep writing. You truly just need one lucky break and you never know when that might happen so don’t give up.

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So…it’s been a while

Oh. Hi. Hello.

Well, this is awkward. It’s been so long since I’ve blogged I’m not really sure how to do it anymore. I’ve never been great at blogging at the best of times (mostly because my natural response to sharing any aspect of myself with strangers is to hiss like a cat and run and hide under some blankets), and I think we can all agree that these aren’t exactly the best of times.

It’s been over a year since I last checked in here so let’s address the elephant in the room – WOW 2020 is basically one giant shitshow huh? Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the US election, rampant wildfires, controversy after controversy after controversy… it’s started to feel like we’re all trapped in some eternal hell cycle. If you’re having a tough time right now just know you’re not alone. Like most of us, I’m really struggling right now.

Back in January, I was so sure that 2020 would be my year. I planned to query agents for my children’s novel (which I haven’t really done), I planned to polish my Urban Fantasy novel and consider self-publishing it (which I haven’t done), and I planned to have at least one more novel fully drafted (as of today, I have exactly 1683 words written). So yeah, 2020 has not been a great year for me writing-wise (it’s also not been great mental-health wise, but that’s a sore spot I’m not quite ready to unpack publicly yet).

But enough of the doom and gloom (let’s face it, you get enough of that on Twitter). I’m here to talk self-promotion baby! Despite the fact I have let my writing goals wither and die like a pot of grocery store basil, I haven’t been entirely idle. About two months ago, I decided that I couldn’t keep putting off my writing goals and I started making tiny steps back in the right direction. Because of that, I actually have quite a few fun projects to share (who knew that making even a small amount of effort could actually yield results?!).

The Uncurriculum

If you know me in real life, you’ll know I have a mind like a sponge but ONLY for strange or useless facts (seriously, I don’t remember 90% of my life but I’m great in a pub quiz). I also happen to have a friend who loves learning weird things as much as I do. Throughout the worst of lockdown, we were desperately searching for something to take our minds off of, well, EVERYTHING, and so the idea of The Uncurriculum was born. It’s a blog of sorts where we share our love of the strange and talk about all the shit you don’t learn in school. For example, did you know that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin may have some basis in historical fact? And have you ever heard of the saint who faced off with the Loch Ness Monster?

It’s still early days for the Uncurriculum but we’d love it if you gave us a follow.

Dark Tales for Dark Times

Speaking of strange things… back in September, my friend (and Uncurriculum co-founder) Sarah Lally and I had a crazy idea – what if we made a bunch of short horror-themed radio plays for Halloween? Considering we only had 5 weeks to write, cast, record, edit, and produce the plays we knew it was an ambitious undertaking. Luckily, our friends are as batshit as we are and we managed to rope a few of them in for the ride. The result was Dark Tales for Dark Times – an anthology of four short radio plays.

The days grow shorter and the first frosts of winter touch the land. We are entering the dark time of year. A time to gather round the firelight and tell stories. So listen close dear friends and try to ignore the howling of the wind and the branches that beat against the windowpane. These are Dark Tales for Dark Times.

Each play is 5 to 10 minutes long and it was so interesting to see the different directions we all took the prompt in. Some stories are scary, some disturbing, and some feature some very dodgy American accents (my apologies America, but consider it payback for decades of Darby O’Gill-level Irish accents). Honestly, this project was so much fun. It reminded me that there’s joy to be found in creating something that didn’t exist before. I think that the rest of the cast and crew had fun too…at least I hope so since I absolutely plan on roping into another round of radio plays in future!

Silver Apples Sunday Sessions

A few months ago, my Silver Apples Magazine co-founder Gráinne had the wonderful idea of starting a virtual writing group that would meet on Zoom every Sunday. Her idea was that we’d and spend two hours writing together (except, you know, not actually together) with a few sociable chats in between. We’ve been going at it for around two months now and I must say, it. has. been. GLORIOUS. I’ve met so many lovely people and there’s something about knowing that other writers are cheering you on that’s so motivating. The sessions run from 3pm – 5pm GMT and we’re ALWAYS open to new people joining. Check out this post for more info (fair warning though… our Sunday Sessions are actually called No C.U.N.T but I promise it’s for a very good reason…)

Honestly, writing is a lonely business and it’s so lovely to feel like we’re building a little community. We have people from Ireland, the UK, Canada and America and people come and go all the time so please do drop by if you’re curious – I promise we don’t bite.

I think that’s about it for now. Hopefully it won’t be another year before I check in again!

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Searching for community on a broken internet

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The Good Old Days (via One Terrabyte of Kilobyte Age)

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, less than 48 hours into my “no social media for a month” resolution, I find myself on Twitter. And not just passively scrolling either. No, I find myself obsessively reading the replies to a Nigel Farage Tweet deriding the Irish government for its response to the latest Brexit proposal. I don’t know how I found myself here (I don’t follow Farage or any of his ilk — I would rather stick a rusty fork in my eye), but I can’t look away.

“Its nothing but pathetic Anti British sentiment. It all goes back to the old adjective, “England’s struggle is Ireland’s gain”. The Irish psyche is too bitter to make an honest decision” says one anonymous Tweeter (typos ALL that Tweeter’s own).

“If Republicans want another war, I say let’s give them one. Let’s see how they like hellfire missiles through their windows and dealing with an SAS fresh from slaughtering ISIS and Al Qaeda” screams another.

And on and on and on they go. Dozens of tweets and most of them singing some variation of the same tune — “The Irish are bad, it’s Ireland’s fault”.

I read through them until a pain erupts deep in my belly and I can feel the old familiar feelings of panic rising in my chest. I’m reading horrible tweets about my home country, about people like me, and yet I can’t stop. It’s like a scab that you can’t help picking at until it bleeds. Finally, I catch myself and think, why am I doing this?

This is not a post about Brexit or even about politics, it’s about social media and how broken it’s become. Before I go on, I want to acknowledge the incredible privilege I have as a well-educated cishet white person. I can’t even imagine the difficulties of navigating social media as a POC, member of the LGBTQ+ community, or any other marginalized group and I absolutely do not mean to minimize the issues they face. I can only speak from my personal experience and my personal experience is that the internet in general, and social media in particular, has become a cesspit and I don’t know what we can do to fix it.

I’ve been online in one form or another since I was about fourteen years old, connecting to the family computer for a stolen hour or two every couple of days until my mother yelled at me to get off so she could make a phone call (hard as it is to believe, there was a time when you could have the internet or the phone but not both at the same time). Back then the internet felt exciting and fun. I spent hours building GeoCities sites dedicated to obscure interests, entered chatrooms and asked strangers “A/S/L?”, and giggled with friends when someone tried to “cyber” with us. I joined forums and gave myself usernames like “Rainbow Moonchild” and gained an American penpal who I would spend hours chatting to on AOL instant messenger, him telling me to listen to Eisley, me telling him to listen to Muse. Back then the internet was something I could turn off at will. Something I could walk away from. I could go days at a time without logging onto my email and I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid.

It was 2011 when things began to change. That was the year I moved to Canada and got my first smartphone and I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that it changed my life. I was far from home in a strange city and having 24/7 access to Facebook made me feel connected to all the people I was desperately missing. It tethered me and made me feel less alone. From that point on, the internet was no longer a useful tool or a happy distraction. It was essential.

It’s not a unique story. The insidious march of forward-progress means that all of us, all of us, are more online than ever before. In fact, I’d bet good money that some of the people reading this don’t remember a time without the internet being literally everywhere, all the time. Looking back, it’s easy to see how it happened — with every new step, every new app, every improvement to software and hardware our lives got easier and easier. I’m far from immune to this. All of my banking is done on my phone, I use it to check when the next bus is coming, what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow, and the best route to get from A to B. Even social media can be a force for good. I’ve discovered so many artists, writers, and musicians I never would have if not for Twitter, Instagram and yes, even Facebook. But these days, I can’t help but wonder what price we’re paying for this convenience. We’ve all seen news articles citing studies that show that social media is making us lonelier. What are any of us really gaining from being online all the time?

Last year I deactivated my Facebook for 30 days. Facebook had been making me feel uneasy for some time and I wanted to see what life would be like with the temptation to “just log-on and check” (“check what?” you ask. Exactly). One month turned into six and, a few months back, I finally logged back on and deleted my account permanently. I knew I never wanted to go back there again. After months with no access to my account, I was able to definitively say that Facebook added nothing to my life. It only took (hours and energy and tears of frustration). It’s not just me that’s feeling this way. A few weeks ago I had dinner with a friend who deleted all her social media a few months back. “I was starting to think in terms of Instagram captions” she confided in me. It frightened me that I knew exactly what she meant.

Does that mean I think all social media is bad? Well… no. But I think that our relationship with it is broken. Social media at its best helps us to connect. It helps us to build community and share the things we love. But lately, all I can see when I log on is the other side of the coin. For every person highlighting an injustice, there are others spewing vile hatred. For every person trying to promote their new album or book or film, there are others who want to tear them down. I don’t want to think that people are inherently bad but after the past few weeks of mudslinging and grown men screaming at 16-year-olds who want to change the world and right-wing hate speech the dam has broken. My tolerance is shattered. I’m exhausted and I’m opting out.

The internet and social media aren’t going to go anywhere. For better or worse, they are a part of our lives and our jobs now. We can’t go back to the internet of before — the internet that was a fun distraction. We can only move forward and try to find new ways of building community in a broken internet.

For my own part, I’m doing what I need to in order to preserve my own mental wellbeing. For the rest of the month of October, I’m not going to open Twitter or Instagram. I’ve deleted both apps from my phone. I’m trying to be more present, to use my phone less in general. I’m trying to re-learn that the internet might be an integral part of modern life, but it isn’t everything. Who knows, with all this extra time on my hands now that I’m not passively scrolling down a page, I may even have time to write another novel or maybe I can start another website, in the fashion of the GeoCities of old, dedicated to obscure interests with a sparkly banner atop that says “respite from the storm”.

***

This post was something that’s been rattling around in my head for a while now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t direct you to Sarah Maria Griffin’s Girl Offline column on The Gloss. She’s a gorgeous writer who explores this idea in a lot more depth (and far more beautifully). 

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How do you know when a novel isn’t working?

Genuine question here guys. How do you know when a novel you’re writing just isn’t working and, relatedly, how do you know whether it’s time to give up entirely?

Let me back up a second.

You may remember a few weeks ago I finally (finally!) finished writing a novel from beginning to end and got it to a state where it’s fit to be seen by other humans. About two weeks ago I sent that manuscript off to a few beta readers for feedback and I figured, while I was waiting, I might as well start working on something else. The only question was…what should I focus on? Should I reach for the shiny new idea (of which I have several percolating away in the back of my brain) or should I return to a previously abandoned novel attempt and try to see that through to the finish line.

I chose the latter option.

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I have two abandoned novels that, for one reason or another, I never got around to finishing (long story short, a combo of being a longtime Discovery Writer or “Pantser”, a severe lack of confidence, and increasingly busy full-time jobs worked together to create the perfect creative storm).

One novel was a YA portal fantasy that I thought I had abandoned at the halfway mark but turns out I just wrote and rewrote the same six chapters over and over again trying out different scenarios (again, the plague of not outlining anything for years).

The other was an adult urban fantasy novel that I actually got pretty far with before running out of steam. I took a look at the most recent draft, which I had optimistically titled Draft 2 for some reason (I don’t know why, both Draft 1 and Draft 2 are almost exactly the same and neither of them was complete) and found I had 48,000 words with 17 chapters fully written, two chapters half-written, and six chapters with a couple of bullet points in each. I knew how the story would begin and how it would end and I had somehow meandered my way over the years to a manuscript that was 3/4 of the way done. Seems like a no-brainer which project I should work on, right?

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Yeah, I think it was a bad idea and here’s why:

I decided my first course of action should be to transfer everything over from Google Docs to Scrivener (my current writing tool of choice). Once that was done, I started to read through everything to understand a) what I actually had, b) where the gaps were, and c) what I would have to do to make a minimal viable draft—i.e. a draft that I could work with and improve. At first, I was pretty optimistic. I like my opening chapters a lot. I think the dialogue is pretty strong and I really do love my main characters—they’ve lived in my head for seven years now, how could I not?

But therein lies the problem. The roots of this story are seven years old. Seven. That means, when I started writing this book, I was 24-years-old. I’m 31 now and a LOT has happened over the years to make me a very different person. I still love a lot about the characters and the world I created, but looking over the draft now, I’m just not sure it’s really working.

The more I read, the more it feels like a book written by someone else—after about three or four chapters it just doesn’t sound like me anymore. Well, actually it sounds like me trying my best to write like someone else (an unholy mashup of Jim Butcher and Neil Gaiman). So there’s my first problem—the voice of the book is all wrong.

By chapter seven, I realized I was mixing third-person limited and third-person omniscient perspectives in the same scenes. That my friends…is not good. Over the last almost-a-decade I’ve learned so much about the technical aspects of writing and I recognize how amateurish it reads to me now. To be honest, the whole book has massive structural issues that would require an extensive rewrite to make work. So that’s my second problem.

My third problem is that it’s obvious I had no idea as to where I wanted the story to be set because I never committed one way or another. I jump back and forth between setting the book in Toronto and setting it in a fictionalized, unnamed city. There are pros and cons to both approaches and even now I’m still not sure which would work best for this story.

There are a whole host of other problems with this book that I won’t get into right now but essentially boil down to this: if I go ahead and try to finish the draft of the book in its current state it will be bad and I would only be doing it for the sake of being able to say that I finished the damn thing.

Now, an argument could be made that this isn’t a bad goal in and of itself. It’s good to finish things because you learn something from the process of seeing something through to the end. It’s just so hard to make myself finish this when, in its current form, it’s a story I no longer believe in.

There are kernels that I could salvage (the premise, the characters, a few scenes here and there) but in order for this book to work, I honestly believe I would have to go back to the drawing board and outline the whole thing from scratch. Truth be told, I don’t know if I can do it right now.

Seven years is a long time and maybe any affection I hold for this story is simply a product of familiarity—like a friendship I’ve outgrown or a job I should have left years ago. Maybe it’s time to shelve the novel for good and finally move on to something else. It’s just so hard to let go.

I don’t have a good way to wrap this blog post up because, honestly, I don’t really have an answer for what I should do next. So I suppose I’ll end with a question—have you ever abandoned a novel? If so, why?

 

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3 Underrated Books on Writing You Should Check Out

If you do a Google search for the best books on writing you’ll see the same titles pop up time and again—The Anatomy of Story, On Writing, Save the Cat! etc.

Don’t get me wrong, these books are essential reads for a reason, but today I want to share with you a few books on the craft of writing that may have flown under your radar.

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative, Chuck Wendig

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Hook Your Audience with Unforgettable Storytelling!

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common?

Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Using a mix of personal stories, pop fiction examples, and traditional storytelling terms, New York Times best-selling author Chuck Wendig will help you internalize the feel of powerful storytelling. In Damn Fine Story, you’ll explore:

  • Freytag’s Pyramid for visualizing story structure–and when to break away from traditional storytelling forms
  • Character relationships and interactions as the basis of every strong plot—no matter the form or genre
  • Rising and falling tension that pulls the audience through to the climax and conclusion of the story
  • Developing themes as a way to craft characters with depth

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, comic, or even if you just like to tell stories to your friends and family over dinner, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

If you’re an aspiring author and don’t know Chuck Wendig you’re doing something wrong. His blog terribleminds.com is a treasure trove of tips and tricks for aspiring authors and as well as writing a whole bunch of novels and comic books, he’s also found the time to publish several books on the craft of writing as well.

In Damn Fine Story, Wendig mixes personal anecdotes with tangible examples from some of the world’s best-known stories to explain the elements of storytelling and, most importantly, why these elements work.

It’s funny and irreverent and honestly, I got so much out of it! It really helped me think about the mechanisms of story and how I can apply them to my own work.

Fair warning, Wendig swears A LOT (and very creatively might I add) so if you’re the kind of person who gets offended by that sort of thing this one might not be for you.

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, Rachel Aaron

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“Have you ever wanted to double your daily word counts? Do you sometimes feel like you’re crawling through your story? Do you want to write more every day without increasing the time you spend writing or sacrificing quality? It’s not impossible; it’s not even that hard. This is the book explaining how, with a few simple changes, I boosted my daily writing from 2000 words to over 10k a day, and how you can, too.”

Expanding on her highly successful system for doubling daily word counts, this book offers practical writing advice for anyone who’s ever longed to increase their daily writing output. In addition to updated information for Rachel’s popular 2k to 10k writing efficiency process, 5 step plotting method, and easy editing tips, this book includes all new chapters on creating characters who write their own stories, plot structure, and learning to love your daily writing. Full of easy to follow, practical advice from a professional author who doesn’t eat if she doesn’t produce good books on a regular basis, 2k to 10k focuses not just on writing faster, but writing better, and having more fun while you do it.

Rachel Aaron (who also writes as Rachel Bach) is an absolute powerhouse. She’s a hybrid author who has been both traditionally published and who’s recently taken to self-publishing. It’s safe to say she knows her stuff.

Her book on writing efficiency, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love is a little different from most writing books because there’s a strong focus on the act of actually getting the words on the page as quickly as possible.

The first section breaks down the method she used to maximize her writing output and take herself from writing 2,000 words per day to over 10,000. She explains everything so well and gives real, concrete advice on how to implement her method to increase your own output.

The second section includes more traditional advice on plotting, writing memorable characters, and editing your own work.

No matter what stage of novel-writing you’re at, this book has something for you. And honestly, the eBook costs about as much as a cup of coffee so it’s an absolute steal. Highly recommend this one.

On Writing and Worldbuilding: Volume I, Timothy Hickson

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Writing advice tends to be full of ‘rules’ and ‘tips’ which are either too broad to be helpful or outright wrong. In On Writing and Worldbuilding, we will discuss specific and applicable ideas to consider, from effective methods of delivering exposition and foreshadowing, to how communication, commerce, and control play into the fall of an empire.

ON WRITING
Part I: Prologues
Part II: The First Chapter
Part III: The Exposition Problem
Part IV: Foreshadowing
Part V: Villain Motivation
Part VI: Hero-Villain Relationships
Part VII: Final Battles
Part VIII: The Chosen One
Part IX: Hard Magic Systems
Part X: Soft Magic Systems
Part XI: Magic Systems and Storytelling

ON WORLDBUILDING
Part XII: Polytheistic Religions
Part XIII: Hidden Magical Worlds
Part XIV: How Empires Rise
Part XV: How Empires Work
Part XVI: How Empires Fall

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Part XVII: How I Plan a Novel
Dozens of sidenotes and extra thoughts on all these wonderful stories

My last recommendation for today is the newest release of the bunch, YouTuber Timothy Hickson’s On Writing and Worldbuilding: Volume I.

Hickson’s YouTube channel, Hello Future Me, is a fantastic resource for writers—particularly those of us who write fantasy and science fiction—and this book is basically an updated collection of Hickson’s video scripts along with some new material.

What I really appreciate about Hickson’s work is that he avoids using absolutes where possible—there’s no “you should/shouldn’t do this” to be found here. Instead, he lays out some best practices for everything from writing prologues to creating a fantasy religion and, like Wendig, he explains how and why they work.

He pulls from dozens of well-known novels and movies to illustrate his point and turn potentially abstract concepts into concrete and easy-to-grasp examples.

At $5 or so for the eBook, it’s another absolute bargain for any writer.

*****

There you have it, three of my favourite underrated writing books! I’m always on the look-out for great new writing resources. What are some of your favourites?