Aliventures is on Hiatus Until Late October

The redesign is now underway. Please bear with me!

In case you’re wondering: I’m not having another baby!

But for some time now, I’ve been thinking about giving the Aliventures blog a bit of a revamp (and hat-tip to Charlie Gilkey for encouraging me on this).

So, I won’t be posting over the next six (or so) weeks, while I:

  • Finalise the new logo
  • Get the new theme (the “look” of the blog) in place
  • Reorganise things so it’s easier for old-timers and new readers to find their way around
  • Get ahead with posts so that I can give you something new on a weekly basis

If there’s something you’d love to see – or love to not see – on the new site, just drop a comment below or email me,

Writers’ Huddle: Quiet Re-Opening

I’ll be opening up the Writers’ Huddle doors in a couple of weeks, so that new members can join in time to take our brand new seven-week ecourse, Launching Your Freelancing Career, along with existing members.

However, unlike past openings, I won’t be posting here on the Aliventures blog about it, and I won’t be guest posting on other writing-related blogs either. So stay tuned on Twitter or Facebook, or make sure you’re getting the Aliventures newsletter, so you don’t miss out.

While I’m Away…

If you’re keen for something to read, check out one of these older posts on Aliventures:

Are Your Writing Dreams Unrealistic?

While some writers do have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations, most don’t. In this post, I contrast “realistic” and “unrealistic” dreams (and, hopefully, you’ll feel encouraged about your chances of achieving yours).

Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?

This one feels rather apt for me at the moment, when I’m not blogging here at least! If, like me, you’ve taken a break from writing, you’re still a writer … and here’s why.

The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)

Whether you’re editing a blog post or a novel, simply starting at the first word and fixing every spelling mistake as you go along isn’t going to be an efficient way to work. Here, I explain the three stages of editing, offering tips to help you with each.

7 Ways to Write Better Blog Posts (Plus Seven Bonus Links)

If you feel your blog posts could be stronger and more effective, check out these tips, and try putting one or two into practice this week. For each tip, I’ve included a link to (and brief summary of) an extra resource that can help you.

Choosing the Right Viewpoint and Tense for Your Fiction (With Examples)

Should you write in first-person, third-person, or even second-person? And should you tell your story in the past or present tense? In this post, I run through your options, and give you examples of each in practice.


Happy reading and happy writing! I’ll be back in late October or early November with a brand new version of the Aliventures blog for you, covering the art, craft, and business of writing.

Stylised Talk: Writing Great Dialogue [With Examples]


Image from Flickr by procsilas

If you’re a fiction writer – unless you’re writing a very short story or something decidedly experimental – you’re going to have to write dialogue.

For some writers (me included), dialogue comes easily. It may even be a little too easy – sometimes, the first words you think of aren’t necessarily the best. Other writers don’t like dialogue, but they recognise it’s an essential part of their story.

Great dialogue can immerse the reader in your book, your world, and most especially your characters.

Poor dialogue jars the reader, and may even see them put the book down in frustration.

Since you’re reading Aliventures, I’m going to assume you know the basics of writing dialogue (like how to set it out, and how to avoid beginners’ mistakes). Just in case you want a refresher, though, here are a couple of links:

Here, I want to dig deep into what makes for great dialogue … and what holds writers back.

Making Bad Things Happen to Good Characters


Image from Flickr by Denise P.S.

Kudos to LycoRogue for inspiring this one.

Do you have a hard time hurting your characters?

Maybe it’s pretty easy with some of them. (For me, villains are fair game, and Woobies seem to invite a fair amount of suffering.)

But chances are, you’ve either got characters who you hate to hurt, or you struggle to let anyone get seriously hurt – whether that’s physically or emotionally.

And yet, as a writer, there are going to be times when you need to cause your characters pain.

They need to fail. They need to be scared, upset, hurt, injured.

Because if the stakes don’t feel real, if all the conflict in your novel is easily and painlessly resolved, then readers just aren’t going to be as attached to the narrative as they should be.

Plus, you’ll miss out on handy opportunities to complicate the plot. Maybe your protagonist is sailing through every challenge with ease … but a broken leg will slow him down (and perhaps move him along his character arc of becoming less stubbornly self-reliant).

It’s one thing to know all this.

It’s quite another to bring yourself to cause your characters actual harm.

Let’s deal first with a couple of key worries:

If You’ve Only Got 15 Minutes, Is It Even Worth Writing?


Image from Flickr by Ian Barbour.

Sometimes, life is so busy that it’s a real challenge to find any writing time at all.

Right now, my two delightful little ones take up a lot of time and energy. We’re also about to move house and writing time has been hard to come by. [Edit: I spent so long trying and failing to get time to work on this post, we’ve now moved!]

So, instead of trying and failing to find a couple of hour-long sessions every week, I decided to go back to something that was working for me a few months ago, when Nick was a newborn: writing for just 15 minutes at a time.

It’s not ideal. But it’s considerably better than not writing at all. And if your life is manic right now, maybe something similar could work for you.

Are Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing Both Offering a Next-to-Impossible Dream?


Image from Flickr by Jonathan Rolande

Back in December 1998, I spent my 14th birthday money on Nigel Watt’s book Writing a Novel and Getting Published.

And for quite a few years, my dream was to be a full-time fiction author.

Not everyone has the same writing dream, of course. But perhaps the most common, generic, one looks like this

I make a good living writing what I want to write.

In many ways, it seems a pretty reasonable dream. Of course, I doubt you’d say “no” to being on the New York Times bestseller list (I know I wouldn’t) – but you might well be very happy about doing something you love and getting paid for it, enough to live comfortably on.

In 1998, the path to achieving that dream looked something like this:

  • Step #1: Write a book; finish it.
  • Step #2: Send it to agents; get an agent.
  • Step #3: Agent secures publishing deal; writer lives happily ever after.

As a 14 year old (and indeed as a 20 year old), that’s what I thought would happen. That was the dream.

It may well have been your dream too, or perhaps still is.

My first novel floundered at Step #1; my second went out to agents and failed to secure more than momentary interest.

After a hastily abandoned attempt at a third novel, my fourth, Lycopolis, was the first I was truly proud of. And I decided not to go down that well-trodden path again.

When and Why You’ll Want to Pay People to Help You Write


Image from Flickr by Images_of_Money.

Should you pay for help with your writing? And when in your career should you do so?

These can be really tough questions to face. After all, you probably want to make money rather than spend it. Unless you’re already a well-established writer, chances are you’re not making much from your writing and you’re relying on a day job to make up the difference.

Yet, without investing at least a bit of money, you’ll probably find it tough to make any progress at all.

Here’s what I’d suggest you spend your money on, from cheapest to most expensive, in order to produce the best work you’re capable of.

Quick note: I’m only covering the writing/editing stage here, so I’m not looking at people who can help you publish (book formatters, cover designers) or people who can help you market your published book. I’ll get to that in a future post!

Split Narratives: Dividing Your Story Between Two or More Narrators


Image from Flickr by dadblunders.

There are several perfectly good ways to structure a story in terms of viewpoint, but (probably) the more common ones are:

  • A single first-person narrator, as in Florence and Giles or 600 Hours of Edward.
  • A main third-person narrator plus occasional omniscient narration, as in Harry Potter.
  • Several third-person narrators, as in The Song of Ice and Fire series, some getting considerably more “screen time” than others.

In this post, I want to think about stories where the narrative is split pretty much equally between two characters.

I’ve come across more books like this in recent years and wonder if it’s becoming a more popular viewpoint choice. (I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!)

Here are some examples of books that are structured in this way:

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris ( / – the narrative is divided between two first-person narrators; the identity of one of these is concealed, though hinted at.

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness ( / – a particularly interesting one as the first book has one first-person narrator, the second book has two, and the third book has three.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett ( / with three first-person narrators, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, all with a different voice.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ( / – with two first-person narrators, their narratives combining to give two sides of the story.

Those are all first person examples. Of course there are plenty of third-person narratives split between multiple viewpoint characters, but they tend to be more likely to give some viewpoints considerably more screentime than others, and/or segue into an omniscient perspective.

A good third-person example that works in a similar way to the first person ones above is my friend Nick Bryan’s Hobson & Choi series, where the third-person limited viewpoint switches back and forth between the two titular characters.

Easier, Better Writing: Harnessing Inspiration and Motivation


Image from Flickr by jeff_golden.



What do those words mean to you?

Some writers would have you believe you can’t write a word without them.

Others think they’re unnecessary: you just sit down and write, regardless of how unenthused you feel.

Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Inspiration and motivation matter. They make your writing better. On your best days, they make writing almost effortless – and irresistible.

But … sitting around until the muse descends and the stars align could mean a very long wait.

In a moment, I want to get into practical ways you can harness inspiration and motivation – but before that, let’s clarify those terms.

“Inspiration” and “motivation” sometimes get used almost interchangeably – particularly in the context of “inspirational quotes” or “motivational quotes”.

In a writer’s life, though, they’re two different forces with different roles to play.

Inspiration is about ideas. You might feel inspired by a line of poetry or a blog post or an article in the newspaper: it sparks off an idea for a short story or blog post or article.

Motivation is about drive. It’s the urge to sit down and write, or to carry on writing when you’re half-way through the chapter or blog post you want to finish.

Inspiration can happen in a moment: motivation’s something that lasts longer.

Of course, the two often go hand-in-hand. You have a great idea (could be big – a whole novel; could be small – a line of dialogue). You feel enthused about sitting down to write about it. You jump in and then you want to keep going.

Can you write without them?

(Though, arguably, some level of motivation always exists, if you’re getting a task done – even if your only motivation is to be able to cross it off your to-do list.)

Will your writing be as good as it could be without them?

It might still be perfectly adequate. In many cases, that could be all you need: perhaps you’re writing something for your job or for a client, and you just need to convey information.

But in many cases, if you’re not inspired, you’re going to turn out something that’s somehow lacking heart. It might be a competent short story – it’s not going to be a competition-winner.

And if you’re not motivated, you’re going to struggle to ever reach the end of a project, especially if it’s a long one, like a novel.

Can you manufacture inspiration and motivation?

Well, most of us can’t simply sit down and decide to feel inspired and motivated … but there’s a heck of a lot we can do to hurry the process along.

To get inspired, try:

You might read about writing, or you might read something similar to what you want to write (a novel in the same genre, a blog on the same topic).


This might seem like an odd thing to do when you’re feeling totally uninspired – but set a timer for ten minutes, and sit down with a pen and notebook and start to make notes about your project.

What are you stuck on? What do you need to know? What could happen in your novel? What might work on your blog? Before the ten minutes is up, there’s a very good chance you’ll have hit on a new idea.

Taking a course.

This could be a pricy – but very effective – option. A few years ago, the summer before I started my MA in Creative Writing, I was rather worried. I’d been blogging for six months and had (I thought) completely lost the desire to write fiction.

A couple of weeks into the MA, I was raring to go – working first on short stories, then getting up the courage to begin (and, later, finish and publish) the novel I’d been thinking about for years: Lycopolis.


Motivation may well naturally follow on from being inspired – but if not, here’s an extremely easy two-step plan to follow:

Step #1: Open up your writing notebook or Scrivener project or Word document (etc).

Step #2: Spend a couple of minutes jotting down a brief plan for whatever you’re about to write.

More often than not, you’ll find that your initial resistance to writing vanishes almost instantly. It’s a bit like exercise (for me, at least!) – once you’re over the initial hurdle of getting started, it’s easy to keep going.

If you haven’t written for a while, or haven’t been writing much, you might feel keen to keep going. Hang onto that.

My best, easiest writing comes when I’m working on a project regularly – not necessarily daily, but more than once a week. Once I’m moving, I want to keep it that way.

If you want to keep up your momentum, try:

Putting an “X” on the calendar each day that you write.                                

Some writers find it incredibly motivating to build an unbroken chain of Xs; others go for a gentler approach and aim for two or three per week (perhaps building up gradually).

Planning writing sessions well in advance.

If you suddenly end up with a busy couple of weeks and no time to write, you’ll lose momentum. Plan ahead – get writing sessions onto your calendar, and mark them off as you complete them.

Keeping a writing journal.

A writing journal is simply a notebook (or electronic equivalent) where you jot down a sentence or two at the end of each session, noting how your writing went. You can record facts (words written, time spent writing), feelings, and even any new ideas that came to you.



If you’d like plenty of encouragement and support (as well as loads of materials to inspire you and suggestions on staying motivated), check out my community / teaching site, Writers’ Huddle.

Membership is only open for a few more days – I’m closing the virtual doors on Friday 12th June and won’t be reopening them until the autumn.

Writers’ Huddle Open for New Members (Only Until Friday June 12th)

As of yesterday, my community / teaching site, Writers’ Huddle, is now open for new members. :-)

The last time I took in new members was before I headed off on maternity leave in November, so if you’ve been waiting eagerly since then to join, head on over there now!

(Quick note: if you got an email through my newsletter list, or as an On Track member, and tried to join yesterday but hit a PayPal error, please give it another try! I’ve tweaked the “join now” button code.)

If you’d like to know a little bit more about Writers’ Huddle, just read on…

What is Writers’ Huddle?

Writers’ Huddle is a private members site for writers of all ages and levels. It’s been running for three and a half years now.

Most members have done a fair bit of writing, though for some, that was a long time ago. Some are full-time or part-time freelancers, some are published authors, and many others are plugging away with novels / short stories / blogs / poetry / memories …

The site includes lots of teaching content (from me and from guests) to help you take your writing further. There are also forums where Huddlers hang out, chat about writing, share useful tips and leads, and critique one another’s work.

What Do I Get When I Join?

As soon as you join, you get access to:

  • All 40 (so far!) past seminars – these are mainly audio (some video), and each seminar has a full transcript, edited for easy reading
  • Two full e-courses, On Track and Blog On
  • Four mini courses, covering fiction-writing, Microsoft Word, setting up a blog, and Twitter
  • The Writers’ Huddle forums: full of interesting conversations and great ideas
  • A short ebook, Seven Pillars of Great Writing

What Do I Get Each Month?

There’s always fresh content in the Huddle, including:

A new seminar each month on an aspect of writing: in audio and transcript form (sometimes also video). Often, we have guest speakers join me to discuss a particular area of their expertise.

Weekly emails letting you know what’s new and highlighting interesting forum topics. These are designed to help you stay on top of what’s going on in Writers’ Huddle, so you can make the most of your membership.

During the rest of 2015, we’ll also have:

A six-week summer challenge to help you make serious progress on a writing project of your choice.

Two new, full-length, ecourses:

  • Launching Your Freelancing Career
  • Self-Publishing an Ebook

The ecourses will initially be available week by week, so we can work through them as a group. After that, they’ll stay available in the Huddle for members to use at any time in future.

How Much Does it Cost?

I know that writers aren’t generally a rich lot (I still vividly remember the first $20 I got from freelancing!) so I’ve kept membership at the same rate as it was a couple of years ago.

Writers’ Huddle costs just $19.99 per month, paid through PayPal, and you can cancel at any time.

You can also try out Writers’ Huddle risk-free: if you join and decide it’s not for you (for any reason) then just let me know within your first 30 days. I’ll refund your membership fee.

How Long is Writers’ Huddle Open For?

Only until Friday June 12th, so please check it out today if you think you might be interested in joining.

(I don’t plan to open the doors again until October, as we’re moving house this summer and I want to make sure I have plenty of time to get new members settled in.)

If you’d like to know more, just head on over to the Writers’ Huddle information page, which has details on everything you get as a member.

If you have any questions, just pop a comment below. You’re also very welcome to email me ( or contact me through the Aliventures contact form here.

There’s Never Enough Time to Write: Here’s Why

I’m back from maternity leave! In fact, I’ve been sort-of-back for over a month. But this post maybe explains why the blog has been so quiet…


Kitty and Nick, May 2015

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and guess that you’re pretty busy.

You don’t have enough time to write everything you want to write.

Me neither.

(And it doesn’t matter what your time looks like on paper. Heck, even if you’re a millionaire with no need for any paying work, you may well still find yourself incredibly busy.)

In 2011, I was busy. I was coaching writers, working on Aliventures, writing blog posts for clients, working on a small e-publishing company with my brother, editing and self-publishing my novel Lycopolis

In 2012, I was busy. I was coaching and blogging and publishing and (badly) promoting Lycopolis, and writing Publishing E-Books For Dummies.

In 2013, Kitty was born. Pretty quickly, I realised that the only reason I’d been on top of my work before was because my wonderful husband was doing the vast majority of the housework and cooking, and because I was working into the evenings.

In 2014, my easy-going baby girl was suddenly a stroppy toddler. I took on more of the childcare while Paul finished up his MA thesis. And the novel I’d been working on, the sequel to Lycopolis, floundered.

On Christmas Eve 2014, Nick was born.

2015 is the busiest, by far, that I’ve ever been. (And my writing time is way, way, down.)

But Even If Your Life Doesn’t Look That Busy …

It’s easy to get frustrated about the time I “wasted” in the past. I remember (dimly!) spending whole Saturday afternoons watching episodes of TV shows, back-to-back, with Paul, in the days before children.

I remember evenings where we sat around after dinner, trying to decide what we wanted to do, because there was nothing to watch and we were bored with all our games.

And now that weekends and evenings are taken up with children and housework and sometimes trying to find the energy to work … I feel that I should’ve used that time far, far better.

But I probably couldn’t have.

I was working full-time, back then. Writing and editing and coaching takes up a ton of creative energy … and I needed the downtime to recover.

If you feel like you “should” have lots of time to write, but it’s just not happening, maybe this is why.

(The wonderful Charlie Gilkey has written some good stuff on this, including Use the Two-Hour Rule to Make Progress on Your Creative Projects.)

Sure, procrastination can be a problem. And it’s definitely worth looking at ways to be effective about your writing time.

But if you’re telling yourself you should be writing for six or eight hours a day … you’re setting yourself up for guilt and failure.

You Don’t Have to be Superhuman

Some writers do seem to write insane amounts. Johnny B. Truant produces a crazy, crazy number of words (like, hundreds of thousands per year – you can read about his workflow in Write. Publish. Repeat.). And I wish I could do the same.

But hey, I don’t know the details of Johnny’s life. He’s definitely a super-efficient writer. But maybe he also has more hours available than me. Maybe he thrives on four hours’ sleep.

Heck, maybe he’s secretly identical twins.

There will always be other writers writing more than you.

And there will always be writers spouting advice about what you should do.

Back before I started Aliventures, when I had a day job, I was making myself miserable trying to live up to Stephen King’s advice to always write a thousand words a day.

It just didn’t work for me.

I’m not superhuman. I need sleep, preferably eight hours of it. (This, sadly, rarely happens with a teething baby in the house.) I need downtime. I’m only human.

You’re the same.

In fact, as writers, we perhaps especially need that time.

We need time to live. Time to drift. Time to browse the web idly and stumble across that next great idea.

Some Practical Thoughts

If you want to make more time in your life to write…

#1: Work on projects you really love.

If life is manic, you’ll find some time (even if it’s only a tiny bit here and there) for a story or blog post or poem that you’re truly keen to work on.

#2: Make your writing environment as ideal as possible.

Use headphones to block out distractions. Get out of the house. Pad your chair with a cushion to make it more comfortable. Turn off your wifi. Whatever it takes to help you stay focused.

#3: Find a single slot, once a week, when you can almost alwayswrite.

(If that’s not possible, shoot for whatever is.) I got this idea from a Writers’ Huddle member, and I love it. My slot, going forward, will be Sunday evenings, 7.45 – 9.45pm. I’ll let you know how it goes.

#4: Work with a timer running.

Set a timer: write till the time is up. Don’t check email or do the dishes or take Buzzfeed quizzes. Even if you think you can’t write in short bursts, give it a try. I got a surprising amount written in a few 15-minute chunks when Nick was teeny, and before Kitty dropped her afternoon nap.


One final thought:

You don’t have to be writing to be a writer.

If you don’t write for a day, you’re still a writer, obviously enough.

And if you don’t write for a month or a year, you’re still a writer.

Sometimes, life really is madly busy. Sometimes, a rest period might be just what your novel or blog or memoir needs in order to flourish.

If you can’t write much, or at all, right now, see it as a time for seeds to germinate. A time for ideas to strike. And keep a notebook handy.