Writing by not writing

Sometimes not writing is part of writing.

I know that sounds counterintuitve, but it’s true. Recently I spent a hard core month writing as fast as I could. I was very in the zone, and I got a lot of progress done, which was awesome. However when the month was up, I was somewhat burned out.

I gave myself a couple of days off, and agonised over not getting more words written. I mooched around the house, watched Netflix and beat myself up about not being productive. looked at my stack of ‘how to write’ books and realised I could be doing something more constructive than agonising.

So I gave myself an official Learning Week.

I spent some time each day doing the following:

  • Reading books on how to write
  • Doing the Judy Blume Masterclass online
  • Reading articles I’d been putting off
  • Doing the writing assignments from Judy Blume in longhand
  • Researching how to be a successful indie author online
  • Reading novels for fun

It was really pleasant – I love learning, especially when it’s stuff I want to learn. I wouldn’t have had the same amount of fun if I were learning accountancy, for example.

Anyway, over the course of the week some cool things started to happen. I had new ideas of how to solve some of the plot problems in the end part of my novel work in progress. I had new ideas for possible new novels. I had ideas for blog posts and bits of dialogue.

I also learned about marketing myself and self-publishing, which was the aim, but even while taking time out to work on a patchwork quilt (not even learning!) my sub-conscious through up an idea of how to make a scene better.

Sometimes, when you’re working constantly on something you’re too close to it. You can’t necessarily see the problems or the solutions to known problems because you’re putting all your time into getting it done.

When I stepped back a little and allowed my brain to do other things, I solved those problems. For example, I woke up at two in the morning and realised I had to change Point of View for a climactic scene. Like, ridiculous timing but such a good results.

I definitely recommend giving yourself dedicated time to learn, and I’ve actually kept it up with a couple of hours a few times a week. I figure it’s time away from writing, but it’s upskilling and it’s giving my brain some time to process problems.

Recommended reading, based on what I’ve learned stuff from reading. (Didn’t get all of them read this week…)

Unleash the Beast by Steff Metal

Emotional Craft of Writing by Donald Maas

Write to Market by Chris Fox

On Writing by Stephen King

Writers, writing

Summer writers series: an interview with Jay Hogan

This is the latest and last in my series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold. I am aware that it’s not actually Summer any more, but whatever, you’re not the boss of me.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Jay Hogan?

Jay Hogan is my pen name just to keep trolls at bay and also to keep privacy for myself and my family. In my life I’ve been a registered nurse working in Intensive Care, a nursing lecturer, a counsellor and supervisor and now a writer.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

I hate all soft drinks, anything with fizz actually, except champagne lol. So maybe a Pinot Gris, fruity with a dry sense of humour ☺

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

Both probably. I’m quite spontaneous but then I also won’t go into anything new that’s important, without checking it out pretty thoroughly.

What got you into writing?

I have always written. I wrote plays in school, had some poetry published in my twenties and thirties, wrote theses and articles at University, and then tried fiction but I couldn’t seem to find my stride in the right genre. I tried to write what I liked to read, but at the time that was mostly thriller and detective fiction, and I found I liked reading it but disliked writing it. It wasn’t till I took my snobbish view off the romance genre that I found a home, particularly mm romance. And yet I’ve always known I am a relationship person. I taught it, counselled it, I was even a family planning educator, so duh, right?

What do you like Reading?

Across the board. I still like thrillers and detective novels and mm romance, but I particularly like quirky characters regardless of genre.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The Nancy Drew Mysteries. Lord of The Rings in terms of a book having a real impact on me.

What are you reading right now?

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers books. And I love anything of T.J. Klune and Amy Lane

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

Just whenever if I can stop!!

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, Dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

It’s a mess lol. You really don’t want to know.

Writing: What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Just lots of reading in and out of the genre I write in. Plus a lot of stuff I’ve gleaned from things I’ve experienced as a nurse in particular.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

Not really. I believe in just getting into that study and writing every day. Just discipline. Even if you throw it out, keep writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

I set up an office with a desk space and I keep it kind of routine. I need a defined space. I’m not a coffee shop writer. I need time and space and quiet and routine. I find when I sit at my desk, my mind knows now what is required of it. Too much change and I can’t concentrate.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King?

I try and write three to four hours a day, door open, dog at my side and usually the cat too. I keep it as much to the morning as I can because I’m pretty useless after three pm. Editing I can do all day anytime, but writing is the morning for me.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

My first book ever about a serial killer abducting girls with eating disorders. I know, I know. But everyone needs a little bit of weird in their head right? Needless to say it never got picked up, thank goodness, lol.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Write. Just start and do it and keep reading. Don’t wait for right time, write place, just discipline and do it. I think of the first couple of books you write as equivalent to going to university. You are learning if you can do it, if you can actually finish a book, and even if you like it.

Favourites: Star Wars or Star Trek?


Hogwarts or Narnia?


Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

South Africa Safari. I love watching wild game doing their thing

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

Kettle fry potato crisps and pork crackling in answer to all.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

Gourmet food store or kitchen equipment store

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

You do not want to hear me sing.

Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

Anything by Queen

What’s your favourite quote?

Just do it.

Pokemon: if you were a trainer, what pokemon would be in your team? (you get 6)

What’s pokemon?? Lol  No, seriously I have NEVER even looked at one.


Jay Hogan is a New Zealand author writing in m/m romance, romantic suspense and fantasy. She has travelled extensively, living in a number of countries. She’s a cat aficionado especially Maine Coons, and an avid dog lover (but don’t tell the cat). She loves to cook- pretty damn good, loves to sing – pretty damn average, and as for loving full-time writing -absolutely… depending on the word count, the deadline, her characters’ moods, the ambient temperature in the Western Sahara, whether Jupiter is rising, the size of the ozone hole over New Zealand and how much coffee she’s had.

You can find Jay at:

Check out Jay’s book, Crossing the Touchline: A New Zealand MM Romance-Contemporary, out now!


Dreamspinner press


On Writing

There’s a wonderful movie called I’m Your Man and it’s a documentary and a recording of a star studded tribute concert to Leonard Cohen. It’s got some incredible performances. But it’s a movie I come back to when I want some encouragement or inspiration for writing.

Having spent all of April in a frenzy of writing a lot, or nothing at all, and putting a lot of pressure on myself either way, I’m in day 2 of relaxation – stepping back and examining what I’m doing a little bit, and trying my best to be kind to myself. So, I’m watching the movie.

Here’s my favourite quote from it, and maybe my favourite quote about writing ever:

You don’t have all the time in the world, I say to myself, you know how long it takes you to get something done. So you gotta run through at least ten versions of this thing. So you have to write down what you’re going to abandon, see how it works in the whole thing and then throw it away. And then throw it away. ~ Leonard Cohen

I love this for a few reasons, but the first one is that it doesn’t play with the idea of the perfect first draft, or even that writing is easy. It acknowledges that it is work, and you have to write the garbage in order to throw it out. This quote tells me to not judge, to just write, and when it’s done, then look at it. Then chuck out what doesn’t work and then to write it again. Obviously this is somewhat easier in song form than it is with an 80k word novel manuscript, but the idea is the same.

If it is your destiny to be this labourer called a writer, you know that you’ve go to go to work every day, but you also know that you’re not gonna get it every day. ~ Leonard Cohen

There’s another good one – this idea that you have to work at it consistently, that you can’t expect it to be easy or fun all the time.

Some people make doors, carpenters. Some people cut hedges, some people are plumbers or doctors and nurses. Leonard Cohen is a songwriter, he goes to work at that. You don’t get a sense from him like ‘oh I woke up one morning and this beautiful song, there it was, freshly painted. With him, he goes ‘no, no… I hate to wait a lot time for that one’. ~ Bono

Writing, and especially, getting to something good in your writing, takes time. Time and work.

I have to keep reminding myself of these things, because I’m sometimes seized with a horrible impatience to get everything Done and Out There, but that’s not necessarily how it works.

Balance these ideas with the Agile idea of the Minimum Viable Product, or getting something out there which is Good Enough, is another mind bender. Nothing can ever be perfect, so I know I can’t keep reworking things forever. I can throw away parts ten times and twenty times, but at some point I have to say “good enough” and put it out into the world.

If you get stuck in endless rewrites, edit, perfection, then you are giving yourself the excuse to never show it to anyone, and therefore neither succeeding or failing. Perfect isn’t a thing, but good enough is. It’s knowing your definition of good enough that’s the real trick. I’m trying to learn it at the moment.

So yes, watching this movie is an education and an inspiration, and it has some brilliant music in it it too. I’m interested to hear any thoughts you have on inspiration, letting go, working at something and knowing when to let it go.


Suburban Book of the Dead an awards finalist!

The finalists for the Sir Julius Vogel awards, New Zealand’s science fiction awards were announced last Sunday. Here’s the longlist.

The Suburban Book of the Dead is nominated for Best Youth Novel! I’m absolutely over the moon that it got to the short list. My little book, a nominee! I’m so pleased and honoured.

The awards are voted by the Science Fiction society and awarded at Geysercon on Queen’s Birthday weekend. (Friday 31st May – Sunday 2nd June 2019) 

If you’re local, I highly recommend attending Geysercon. I’ll be appearing on a panel or two, and paperback copies of Suburban Book of the Dead will be available for purchase at the book fair all weekend.

Click the cover to be taken to the book on Amazon. It’s also available on BookDepository and the Hutt based indie bookstore Writers Plot Readers Read


How to form a Daily Writing habit

I’m trying out graphics, not sure about this one tbh

First and foremost, a daily writing habit doesn’t work for everyone, so if you’re setting out to make one for yourself know that it’s okay if you don’t write every single day. You can have break days, and you can have break weeks, and all of that is good and normal.

I’ve had some luck using a project like NaNoWriMo, where there’s a community and a special website where you can track your writing for each day, you have a goal and the site shows you graphs of your progress. That can be very motivating! But NaNoWriMo only runs once a year, and CampNaNo is a couple of times more. So although those are great short term options, if you want a proper habit it’s probably not what you want to start with.

Instead, make a deal with yourself to really do this. I’ve recently come to the realisation that people make time for the things that really matter to them. You hang out with your most important friends, you spend time on the most important piece of work. If you want to create a piece of writing every day you have to make it a priority. No more ‘I just can’t find time’ excuses, if this is important to you, you’ll make time for it.

Where do you find the time?
– wake up an hour early and write then
– your lunch break
– as soon as you get home from work
– after dinner, instead of watching TV

Okay, so I’ve made the time, what do I do now?

Set a goal for how many words you’re going to write each day. It might be a certain word count, or a certain number of pages, or just ‘more than a couple of sentences’. Your goal is yours to determine.

Staring at the blank page can be a terrifying thing. I know that. There’s a couple of options I can suggest:

  • Plan first. I’ve never traditionally been a planner, I was a ‘pantser’ which for those not in the ‘biz, means ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ writer. Don’t do this, if you’re just starting out. Make a plan, use some beat sheets, or write down the ideas you’ve had, what things you want to cover, make a mind map, have something to go on.
  • Freewriting. Just start writing with no agenda or judgement. Don’t worry if it’s meaningless drivel or just you writing ‘I don’t know what to write and I feel silly’, you just do it. Write whatever random stream of conciousness comes to you. The point isn’t the output itself, but the act of writing. The more you do this, the easier it becomes, and it opens up something in the creative centers of the brain.
  • Two projects at once. This is a controversial one, but one I learned off Lauren Graham. Have two projects on the go and switch between them whenever you get bored. If you write longhand this is easy enough to do, with two books open. If you write online as I do, have two tabs open. In fact, as I write this I am multitasking with my current novel in another tab and a roleplaying game scenario in another. Although that’s more than two projects so… ignore that.
  • Recount something. Just write out a dream you had, or an outing you’ve been on, or a memory you treasure. Anything you can just start into and keep going until it’s done.

Whatever you choose to do, do it one day, then make sure you do it again next time.

Then what?

I can’t give you a magic trick, or foolproof technique which will turn you into a daily habit writer. Because it’s entirely up to you to do. But I want to assure you that if you do want to do it, you can. You just have to want it, make time for it, and then get going.

Other tips:

  • If you’re writing online and finding yourself distracted
  • Something like 750 words can be a really good way to ‘earn’ badges by updating each day.
  • Find a check in buddy or group, where you can check up on each other or encourage as needed
  • Carry a notebook, or use a notetaking app to capture ideas as you have them. I can’t tell you how many brilliant ideas I’ve had which are gone forever because I thought I’d remember them on my own
  • It’s okay if you miss a day, and actually letting yourself off the hook for a day or longer can be very energising. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect. You can always pick it up again when you have the brain space

I hope this has been of some help, please comment if you have any additional tips or ideas !


Summer Writers Series: an interview with Anne Barwell

Please welcome Anne to my series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold.

Thanks for hosting me, Jamie.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real (your name)?

I’m Anne Barwell, and I write MM fiction across a range of genres.  So far I’ve written historical, fantasy, and contemporary, with a dash of SF.  In my day job—under another surname though my sooper secret writing life is more like an open secret as people keep introducing me by my writing name—I work in a library.

I have three grown children, five grandchildren, and a cat who is quite convinced my house is run to suit her.  Good thing she’s cute.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

L&P as it’s a very Kiwi drink.  Seriously, though, I don’t tend to drink much of anything fizzy but I like this one because of its unique mix.

What got you into writing?

I wanted to read something and couldn’t find it, so wrote it myself.

Why do you write now?

I have a lot of stories to tell, and I want to be able to share them.  I also have characters clamouring for their stories, and I need to get them out there.


What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

So many as I was an avid reader, so I can’t remember the earliest, so I’ll list the ones I remember very clearly from that time – which was a while ago now.   The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Wyndcliffe by Louise Lawrence, Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, Hugh Walter’s Chris Godfrey series, and I loved Andre Norton, and Robert Heinlein’s YA stories. And Narnia.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

There were several of those too so difficult to choose.  The Lensman series by EE Doc Smith,  Wild Talent by Wilson Tucker,  Love of Mother Not by Alan Dean Foster, and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin.

What are you reading right now?

I’m just finishing off Earl of Huntingdon by N.B Dixon which I’m loving – it’s the third in the series, and a retelling of Robin Hood, with Robin and Will together.  Then I will be diving into The Rising by Morgan Brice.

I always have two books on the go as I read during breaks at work with a hardcopy – that one is Bye Bye Baby by Fiona McIntosh.  I got hooked on her books with a standalone fantasy, and since then she’s only written historical romance. I’ve read all of those as they’ve come out and love them.  This one is one of her early books originally written under another name and republished this year. It’s a mystery detective, and I’m enjoying it as much as her others.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf that you think might surprise people?

The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  I read it and the sequel when they first came out, and loved them so much I needed my own copies.

I often get surprised comments when I read mystery detective at work as I’m more known there as an SF/fantasy reader.  I read across a lot of genres, and if mixes genres, all the better. If something looks good/interesting, I’ll read it. I don’t care what genre it is.  

What book would you like everyone to read?

That’s a difficult one, but I think I’ll have to go for The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. That’s the book that hooked me on celtic mythology and everything Arthurian.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

I try to stop reading at the end of a scene, but that doesn’t always work, especially when reading at work.  I also tend to read the end of a book first, even mystery detective, so find ebooks a bit frustrating as I have to read those in order.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

I’m taking this question to mean books that have inspired me to write.  The Dark is Rising, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and when I discovered Morgan Brice’s Badlands series last year, my reaction was yes! This!

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

If I had more shelves and space it would be dewey for the non-fiction, and alphabetical for the fiction, and as I don’t….  I try and group authors together, and roughly genre which is difficult as I like to read books that cross genres. Non-fiction by subject, and as close to dewey as space will allow.  I work in a library so doing it any other way makes me twitch.


Creative writing in primary school, what did you write about? Can you remember any stories?

I always used to write far more than I needed to.  I remember designing a futuristic house and writing about the family who lived there.  

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

I take time out to smell the roses, and look around me.  If I need a break from everything, I’ll read as it reminds me why I write.  

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

Write what you know.  If we all stuck to this, there would be no historicals, no fantasy, and no SF.  If you don’t know something that’s what research is for, plus we’re writers so use your imagination to fill in the rest.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

Not so much divine, but I definitely have a muse.  He’s a gay guy who is stubborn, pushy, and I swear strategically organises the other characters behind my back.

What does your physical writing space look like?

I write at my dining room table – I live alone so it’s a perfect workspace as I don’t use it for meals.  Being next to the kitchen it also means I can multitask and cook/bake while I’m writing. I use a laptop rather than a desktop.  To my left is my diary, and four magazine racks which are divided into each of the books I’m working on, book reviews, and general.  To my right is my pencil/pen etc holder, a note cube, a small set of pull out drawers with other bits and pieces, and my note book for the RWNZ stuff as I’m contest coordinator for them.  And of course a coaster for my cup of tea.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King? (or another famous writer’s approach, add in your own)

My writing routine is make a cuppa, and turn on the radio. I always write with background noise although when I get in ‘the zone’ I’ll completely zone it out.   I used to write a chapter then edit, now I’m writing straight through with plenty of [insert whatever research here], and editing later. It’s upped my output considerably as research tends to lead down long rabbit holes.  I also try to set a certain amount of time in a day to write without going near facebook or whatever. Although in saying that I usually have a chat programme open so am chatting at the same time although the person at the other end knows there will be long gaps in our convo.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

Back in the day when I was writing fanfic, I wrote a Gundam Wing/Stargate crossover. I loved that story, but unfortunately with lack of time and needing/wanting to focus on original stories now, I doubt I’ll finish it, despite knowing how it ends.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Read heaps.  Make time for writing, rather than giving it the time left over as that will never happen.  Write often, at least 5 out of 7 days a week as you’re allowed a weekend, even if it’s just a few hundred words.  And don’t give up. Your stories are important, uniquely you, and need to be shared.


Star Wars or Star Trek?

I have to choose? But I like both for different reasons….

Hogwarts or Narnia?

Narnia.  *whispers* I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, and never finished the series.

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

A writer’s retreat somewhere surrounded by nature, but with good company and a good internet connection.   I’d also love to visit the UK and see all that history at some point.

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

As I work three late nights I tend to plan most of my meals and well in advance.  Breakfast tends to be fruit toast, porridge and a cuppa. Lunch something salad like, whether it be a sandwich or a wrap. Roast vege salad – yum.  Dinner nothing too heavy. I love stir fries, curries, and grilled meat with loads of veges on the side.

I don’t do a lot of snacking, and tend to reach for a piece of fruit if I’m hungry, although I am partial to a piece of caramel slice or cheesecake if I want to be decadent.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

I’d probably go for a grocery store and grab a hoarde of non-perishables so I could then use that money to buy other things I want which I’d then have time to browse and get exactly the right item.  Five minutes wouldn’t be enough for those – which would be books, CDs, DVDs, clothes and electronics as my inherited stereo is on its way out.

Imagine you’ve had your best ever year, what photos would you have from that year?

Of fun times with family and friends, and gorgeous scenery from places I’ve been.

What’s your favourite quote?

Magic is science we don’t know about yet – Arthur C. Clark

Weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

I wouldn’t call it weird, per se, and I don’t call writing a hobby – it’s more like who I am – but I play violin in  a local community orchestra. I have a background in music as I taught it for ten years, and it’s part of my degree, so it’s how I keep my hand in, plus it’s good social interaction. I still dabble at piano but it’s a much more solitary thing now I don’t play in a music group anymore.

I also belong to a SF club.  We meet once a month and discuss what we’ve read and watched, plus get together to watch movies etc.


Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with a cat with ‘tortitude’ who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though Kaylee may be winning.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes.  She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards.  She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.


Website & Blog:


Facebook page:




Queeromance Ink Author Page:

New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers:

Sign Up For My Newsletter:

fiction, writing

Void breath

Breathing to re-anchor myself. To make myself more human and less void. Breathe in, breathe out.

I need less aether in this skin. My skin.

Some days it takes longer than others. A disruption to my routine will certainly cause the human-ness to disappate, the myriad confusions of the universe rush in instead.

This openness to the void is usually not much of an issue. Not too big, not too bothersome. But if I have to get up at 4am to check into an early flight, or if I get wrapped up in excitement at a party, or playing a video game and stay awake to late then it rears up.

Any day I forget to eat.

If I get sick with a fever.

If I run into an ex unexpectedly.

There are warning signs: a slight nausea where my stomach should be, a prickling in my fingers, or a tingling up the forearms. The feeling that something in my spine is out of place and wants a good crack. My eyes dry out, my throat scratches, the corners of my mouth crack painfully.

When these things happen, even one of them, I get irritable.

It’s best not to speak to me.

This is for your own good, you understand. Anything that sets me off in this state could trigger… well. I don’t exactly know what it triggers. I don’t know what would happen. I’ve always been able to control it.

Breathe in, slow, controlled.

Even the time I woke up halfway through the process. My heart fluttering somewhere around my left ear and my being feeling such affinity to the infinity. The void filling me and threatening to do something worse, something more…

Breathe out, longer than I breathed in for. Control the rate of expulsion.

If I couldn’t breathe my body back into the completeness who knows what might happen. But something in me continues to chase the void away. To return to the anchor of the flesh and breathe. In and out.

Breathe in

Breathe out


This is a short piece I found in an old notebook from 2015. I rather liked it, so I updated it and now you get to enjoy the existential horror of anxiety. You’re welcome.