How to Use Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales in Your Fiction

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From myths, legends and fairy tales to folklore: again and again, these old tales reappear in modern fiction. But how do you use them in your novel?

Why Reuse Tales?

Old tales aren’t copyrighted; what you can do with them is only bound by your own imagination. Not only are they a great source of inspiration, but they can add another layer of story for your reader to engage with.

Even their original form is still alive and well today. There is something fundamentally human in the sense of something dangerous about the woods, something magical and unexplainable just around the corner.

Myths are not just for dry, dusty old anthropology professors to muse over in their ivory towers – they’re living stories which we continually reinvent for the times we live in.” – Lucy Coats

What has been the impact of these time-defying stories? Holly Black believes the stories have become central to our being, residing in our subconscious and defining how we see the world.

Do we even stop to think about the ridiculousness of the ‘kiss of life’, prevalent nowadays even in action movies? Fairy tales will forever be a part of who we are.

For Sjón, myths remind him of how small humans are. Poseidon, for example, could wipe us out with a tsunami whenever he wants. The less ‘happily-ever-after’ stories remind us of our mortality to protect and prolong life.

Whether thousands of years ago or in the twenty-first century, death is the ultimate enemy of humans and life is to be protected.

Sjón’s homeland of Iceland has many fascinating old tales of its own. Stories that particularly fascinate him are those where metamorphosis occurs: people turn into flowers, rivers or animals. What is stunning is humanity’s obsession with the idea, leading us to the modern age of genetic experiments.

4 Simple Steps to Go From Tale to Novel

With a fairy tale or two in mind, plus a little King Arthur to spice it up, how far do you go from the original story? Some believe sticking as close as possible to the most original form creates a true, pure story untainted by ulterior motives.

But while seeking the original tale for inspiration can give a lot of insight into the core of the story, there’s a lot more to be done.

1. Know your audience

Are you writing for young children, teenagers or adults? Are you writing a literary piece, or a genre one? Identifying your audience leads you to what parts of the old tale are relevant and interesting to them.

Do they want a modernised retelling, or a whole new story with aspects spliced in from old tale(s)? Would anything in the tale be unacceptable or confusing when read in a modern setting?

All right I am corny, you know? But I think there are just about 140 million people in this country who are just as corny as I am, you know? I’m not a politician, I do it because I like it.” – Walt Disney

Kelly Link tries to imagine a world where Disney didn’t create the cartoons that changed fairy tales and how we view them. Would the original, written form be less or more popular than it is now?

While Disney altered several fairy tales, it was done to appeal to the audience and convey the desired message. This is no different from what any more recent rehashing of fairy tales does, and no different from the task in front of any writer picking up some old tales for their craft.

2. Fill in the gaps

Old tales aren’t a complete novel in themselves; some are only a few pages long. Have a look at what is missing in the old story that modern fiction requires.

In Holly Black’s experiences, fairy tales and other old stories typically have plain, simple characters. Developing characters with backstory and motive naturally sparks off a whole new side of the story.

Another common gap in old tales is setting. Some have a vague indication, such as a castle or ‘deep in the woods’, but little indication of the surrounding culture. Building the setting can feed directly into and off your character’s motives.

For example, you might examine the political system in detail; what if wolves were the oppressed minority?

3. Do your research

Some old tales have different versions across cultures and time. Searching for these can give great ideas of story elements you can move around and still be ‘true’ to some form of the original.

It’s also intriguing to discover which myths traverse countries, and how fairy tales adopt different nuances as they travel the globe.

I did a lot of research, then chose the elements which were most vivid and which worked best in my voice. So I hope I’ve retold a story which you will recognise, but which will also surprise you.” – Lari Don

It’s also good to have a look at what is currently popular with fiction using old tales. In recent years, many retellings show the other side of a familiar story.

Another trend is to look into the history of the story itself: how it came about, who created it and who recorded it. Kate Forsyth’s latest novel The Wild Girl was inspired by the forbidden love of one the Grimm brothers. There’s no end to the inspiration held by these old tales!

4. Select which elements to focus on

Are you using a single story, or a collection of myths? This question is particularly relevant if you’re focusing on a mythological being, such as a vampire.

Is it the plot of one or a few tales that really captivates you, or is it the concept as a whole, built by several related but unconnected myths and legends? This will affect which elements you take from the old tales.

You’ll want to handle old tales differently depending on how familiar they are to your audience.

If you’re using a familiar one, it’s good to use more creative license and encourage your readers to see the old tale in a new, exciting way. If you’re using a relatively unfamiliar old tale, its unknown has great potential to add richness to your novel if you stay close enough to the original.

Using the Familiar

Generally speaking, familiar tales fall under Western mythology and old tales. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, King Arthur, and Ancient Greek or Egyptian gods are just some of the stories you may play with in this way.

If you conduct a search for novels using familiar old tales, the first thing you’ll come across is modern retellings with a twist.

When people want simple nostalgia, they’ll likely read the original or sit down to a Disney movie. In picking up a novel, they’re looking for a little something more.

Even when you’re changing the old tale, its core woven through the story will resonate.

The fairy tale is a lie that expresses the deepest of human truths: those of the psyche through the imagination.” – Joslyn Robinson

While it’s good to put a new twist on a familiar tale, readers will notice every time you change something. To an extent, it’s good to keep up their expectations.

Holly Black recommends plot points from old tales as being the most rich and relevant to the original. Sticking to the original’s plot points – metaphorically or literally – will help keep the magic and hint of nostalgia.

Holly Black’s favourite old tale to use is the collection of myths surrounding fairies. While vampires and werewolves are also favourites of hers, they were once human and bring with them a personality that is just a little too familiar. There is also an endless list of fairies, from pixies to brownies and trolls.

Fairies are truly alien; they cry at weddings and laugh at funerals.” – Holly Black

Alternately, Kelly Link likes working with Greek gods and mythology because their characteristics are so human. The tales are full of family squabbles, misuse of power, jealousy, revenge – drama that’s much the same whether in the mortal or immortal world.

Using the Unfamiliar

Maybe a sense of the familiar isn’t what you want to go for. You may want to write a Snow White who lives with seven ghouls instead of dwarves, or something completely bizarre and unheard of. Typically this type of story comes from Eastern, Middle Eastern, African, South American and Slavic cultures.

Researching different versions of old tales from other cultures, or completely unheard of ones, can help inspire an element of the bizarre in your novel.

Another advantage of using these lesser-known old tales is that it’s less likely to be compared to other versions. You can change what you like and not get pulled up on it; you can do a straight retelling and still be seen as presenting a fresh story.

But when they read my retellings of the untrustworthy Korean tiger or the Witch of Lochlann or Inanna tricking the god of wisdom, they might never see that story anywhere else. My version will be the only version they know. And that’s a really heavy responsibility.” – Lari Don

You can use the whole story, or elements of it. But be careful that taking the old tale out of its original culture doesn’t create a story that can’t be understood. It’s important to research and understand the culture the story came from, but assume that your readers aren’t as familiar with that culture.

Kelly Link likes Japanese folklore, which she first came into contact with through Studio Ghibli films, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Princess Monoko (1997), Spirited Away (2001) and Ponyo (2008) are just some of his films inspired by various aspects of Japanese culture and mythology, particularly their land gods and spirits or demons.

Sjón grew up with Icelandic mythology that, while familiar to him, is very unfamiliar to his Western audience. He shared a few bizarre Icelandic tales at the festival that are worth repeating.

Children are told tales of the Jólakötturinn – the Yule or Christmas Cat – that eats children who don’t receive a gift of clothing for Christmas. And there is the huldufólk – Hidden People or elves – whose existence has stopped several contraction plans to move or destroy the rocks they are believed to live in.

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Myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore are a rich part of our storytelling culture and heritage. Bringing them into your modern work of fiction connects you to the fundamental truths that have survived the ages.

Whether taking inspiration from a familiar or unfamiliar tale, you can add a spark of magic to your own work.

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-use-myths-legends-and-fairy-tales-in-your-fiction/

3 Essential Tips To Make Your Anti-Hero Effective

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“I’m often painted as the bad guy, and the artistic part of me wants to hand out the brush” – Criss Jami, Killosophy

Everyone loves a hero, like Hercules or Superman, who is pure of heart, fights for the good of everyone and always prevails. However, over time these types of characters can become mundane, their victories predictable and hollow. The audience knows the hero can never be defeated so they yearn for more to sink their teeth into. Enter the anti-hero.

The anti-hero is someone who is a protagonist but is lacking traditional heroic qualities. They will still have good intentions at heart for the most part but are afflicted by hamartia, a flaw in their character which dramatically complicates matters.

In some video games, a player can be asked to choose their character’s alignment; lawful good, true neutral, neutral evil, etc. An anti-hero would be classed as chaotic good, a person who will achieve their goals without regard for authority or law.

Because of the distinct character tics that anti-heroes possess they can be significantly more intriguing than a traditional hero who can do no wrong. This is because readers can connect with and relate to the anti-hero on a basic human level. They are how we often envision ourselves, and so they draw us in.

So how does one create an effective anti-hero and what are some examples? Here are 3 tactics to keep in mind when writing an anti-hero.

1. FLAWS

There are many different ways that the anti-hero can raise the ire of the audience.

  • They might be short of moral fibre, with their idea about the right way to do things decidedly different to everyone else’s. This is often the case with detective anti-heroes. The line between police and criminal blurs. An example here would be Inspector Rebus, in Ian Rankin’s novels, who is a borderline alcoholic and is forever being reprimanded for misconduct.
  • Self-doubt may paralyse them into constant failure. When the time comes to prove themselves or help those around them, they are unable to. A good example of this is Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series. Time and time again Ron miscasts spells or loses his nerve.
  • They may have a massive chip on their shoulder, frowning upon the world. This gives them a cantankerous attitude towards the people around them. Hester Shaw from Mortal Engines personifies this with her fierce and often violent temper.
  • Foolhardy anti-heroes bumble along with positive intent but their actions are often laughable. A classic example is Don Quixote who was following a near impossible vision.
  • An anti-hero is sometimes an actual criminal but one who wants to be a better person than they are. A personal favourite is Driver in Drive by James Sallis which was made into a masterful film of the same name.

2. NOBLE INTENTIONS

Be careful not to push the envelope too far. Instil your character with too many undesirable traits and you risk getting the reader offside or even worse, turning your anti-hero into an outright villain. If your character traipses around hurting people or behaving badly without reason then they are not an anti-hero and the audience will fail to empathise with them. Even if they are seen to be working on the side of evil, such as Severus Snape in Harry Potter, they must have hidden agendas for good and show enough glimpses of this to keep them balanced.

There are many characters who tread a fine line between hero and villain. A very complicated anti-hero is Sula Peace in Sula by Toni Morrison. She is seen as the personification of evil by her hometown when she returns after a long absence. Her apparent disregard for social conventions have the town seething but little do they realise she is actually bringing the town together and improving their lives.

Another quintessential case is Bruce Robertson in Filth by Irvine Welsh. He is an alcoholic, drug addicted, violent, manipulative, masochistic, narcissistic man. A truly vile character that has the saving graces of being a law enforcement officer. He is slightly redeemed by the motivation he has for his family and there is sympathy to be found in his plight.  This brings us to the next consideration.

3. REDEEMING FEATURES

As much as the audience might be frustrated by the anti-hero they must also be delighted, charmed, or moved for the character to be a successful literary feature. Similarly to flaws, there are multiple avenues to explore in order to get the audience behind the heroes back.

  • An easy way to redeem your character is to give them a great sense of humour, be it dry wit, scathingly clever sarcasm, or more outlandish comedy. If the character can make the reader laugh they can’t be all bad. Arthur and Ford from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy qualify here.
  • The anti-hero can be decidedly charming and reassuring such as Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby who is living the American dream despite lying about everything.
  • They can be dashingly handsome and attractively dark. Think Don Draper in Mad Men.
  • They can even be quite brave to make up for other weaknesses. Bilbo in The Hobbit is greedy and his will is unable to withstand the ring causing him to retreat from Gandalf’s confidence but he is the most courageous of the party.

Put ‘simply’ the anti-hero is incredibly conflicted and complicated. Some of their actions would ordinarily mark them as evil but at heart they are always good. It is a difficult and nuanced task to create the perfect anti-hero. Push too far one way and you are left with a more one dimensional character which the audience will find either too pure and thus boring or too vile and thus inaccessible.

Further Reading

Here is a list of all the texts mentioned above (with a bonus extra) to provide plenty of valuable insight into anti-heroes.

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams
  • The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Sula (1973) by Toni Morrison
  • Inspector Rebus novels (1987-2013) by Ian Rankin
  • Mortal Engines (2001) by Phillip Reeve
  • Harry Potter series (1997- 2007) by J. K. Rowling
  • The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1612) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • Drive (2005) by James Sallis
  • Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Hobbit (1937) by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Filth (1998) by Irvine Welsh

Via: https://writersedit.com/3-essential-tips-make-anti-hero-effective/

Writing Prompts: Write A Letter

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Make a character write a letter. Not an email. Not a text message. An actual letter. 

Who’s this letter to? Does the letter explain your character’s relationship to its recipient? Does the reader already know the recipient? Or have you used this opportunity to introduce a new character?

What does the letter say? Do you, as the writer, include the letter in full? In snippets? Or do you simply paraphrase what your character is writing and thinking?

Some ideas: 

  • Your protagonist could write a letter to you, the author. What would they say to you? Would they be grateful, or would they have a few bones to pick?;
  • Your protagonist could write to another character or the antagonist;
  • Your antagonist could write you a letter, or write to the protagonist or another character, and so on;
  • The recipient of the letter could also write back.

Make sure that this letter offers your readers something new, what is it that we’re learning? Everything has to happen for a reason in your story, is this purely to show a character trait? Is it a clue as to what happens later? Is it to put new pressure on the relationship between your characters? 

Whatever motivates the letter, make sure you are discovering something deeper about the character or characters involved. 

Happy writing! 

Via: https://writersedit.com/254/resources-for-writers/weekly-writing-prompt-4/

30 Ways To Start A Novel 

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There are many ways to start a novel, but sometimes how to begin just eludes you. Well, here are 30 possible ways to start a novel (or a scene, for that matter) to give you some inspiration:

1.The arrival of a letter, email, or package. (The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield.)
This could be momentous. However, it could simply tell the reader about the character’s everyday life, such as a distasteful private message on a dating site.

2. A main character in a frustrating situation.
This can also give the reader a feel for her everyday life, while making them empathise with her right away. Maybe her car has broken down, or her cat is puking.

3. A main character in an awkward or embarrassing situation.
Maybe her cat is puking on the lap of a visitor she was trying to impress.

4. The discovery of a dead body. (Thief of Shadows, Elizabeth Hoyt. Also about a million mysteries.)

5. The death of somebody in the family or the community. (All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy; The Known World, Edward P. Jones.)
This is a popular one, and understandably so, because an ending is a new beginning.

6. The beginning or the middle of a disaster. (All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, kind of.)
It could be a bombing, a plane crash, or a tornado.

7. The aftermath of a disaster. (Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.)

8. A kiss.

9. A performance, or the conclusion of one. (Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. This also has a kiss in it!)

10. A main character in the hospital. (Kindred, Octavia Butler.)

11. A main character declaring that he is in big trouble. (The Martian, Andy Weir.) The first line of The Martian is, “I’m pretty much fucked.” But your character’s situation could be somewhat less dire: “I had no chance of doing well that morning.”

12. A main character who’s clearly in big trouble. (What Is the What, Dave Eggers.)
She might be getting mugged or running from Nazi soldiers. Readers will start caring about her immediately.

13. The arrival of a plane, ship, or train. (The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas.)
The character might be on board, or he might be watching it come in.

14. A scene at a party, a bar, or a nightclub. (War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy; The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss.)

15. A fight. (The Warrior, Zoë Archer.)
The character may be part of the fight, or just witnessing it.

16. A character moving in to a new place.
It could be a neighborhood, a dorm room, or a new country.

17. A broad statement about one’s life. (One For the Money, Janet Evanovich.)
One For the Money begins, “There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me — not forever, but periodically.” That’s a great hook.

18. A dramatic moment in the middle or end of the story. (The Secret History, Donna Tartt.)
You can begin here and then backtrack to explain how they got there. For instance, the prologue of The Secret History begins, “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

19. A trial in a courtroom. (Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson; also an example of #18.)
A milder version of this could be your character faces a judge or jury in the form of a parent, a manager, or a peer.

20. A job interview.
I really like this idea because you could get a lot of information across about your character naturally. She might be giving appropriate answers while her internal monologue tells you the rest of the story. Also, an applicant at a job interview is in a vulnerable position, which I think would create empathy for your heroine right away.

21. A main character meets someone new. (Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë)
A stray cat? A future lover? Someone important, probably.

22. A street scene. (Perdido Street Station, China Miéville.)
Your character could be getting an errand done or going to visit somebody. For a novel that takes place in an historical, futuristic, or fantasy setting, this can be a good way to establish a sense of place as well as establish your character’s normal life and priorities.

23. A main character in a triumphant situation.
Set her up before you knock her down. She could be giving a speech, winning a race, or accepting an award. It could also be a smaller personal triumph, such as successfully fixing a car or turning in her term paper on time.

24. A character or characters getting dressed, shaving, putting makeup on, or doing their hair. (The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki.)

25. A big, happy occasion such as a wedding or a graduation.
Of course, it might or might not be happy for your main character, who may be a participant or someone in the audience.

26. One character teaching another how to do something.
This is another way to establish your main character’s personality and his everyday life. If he’s a father, he could be teaching his son to hunt or to cook rice properly. If he’s an insurance salesperson, he could be giving the new guy some tips.

27. A visitor showing up at the door. (The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler.)
The main character might be the visitor or the person answering the door.

28. A main character coming across a significant object.
It could be a photograph of a lover she intended to forget, or strange relic that turns out to be magical.

29. A character committing a crime.
He might be the main character, or he might be the antagonist.

30. A character or characters completing a task. (Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens.)
This could be an unusual or startling task, or a more ordinary one with emotional significance.

By now, your creative juices should be spilling over. So hop to it! 🙂

Via: http://bryndonovan.com/

Tips for Writing Round Characters

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I’ve never had a character come to me fully formed and ready to go. They come to me like ghosts and I have to make them real by getting to know them over time. Creating (good) characters is hard work, but when you take the time and effort to make them ’round’ it’s always worth it.

So what is a ’round’ character? E.M Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel, that:

“The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat… It has an incalculability of life about it – life within the pages of a book.”

Someone once told me that if you can imagine the character existing outside of the novel, if they have lives that reach beyond their role in the book’s plot, they’re round. It’s all about putting life back in those ghostly figures that first appear.

But it’s not always so easy to create a round character. One approach is to let the characters reveal themselves to you, to really sit down and get to know them.

Ask questions.

Write out a set of questions for your character and conduct a kind of interview. This gets your brain thinking about all sorts of random details that you can use for background info to help round out your character. If you’re not sure what to ask, check out this list of possible questions.

HINT: This works even better if you don’t know the questions beforehand. Have a friend do the asking – it’ll keep you on your toes!

Have a chat.

Imagine physically meeting your character for the first time (maybe in a cafe, or at the library – it depends on the character). How does the conversation begin? How do they respond to you? This is great for picking up body language and visualisations about the character.

HINT: It’s not recommended to tell people who aren’t writers that you’ve been ‘talking with your characters’. They just don’t get it. Believe me.

Fill out a job application.

This idea comes from an article on The Write Practice. It’s a great way to work out the facts about a character. Don’t forget the important yet sometimes over looked details like age, date of birth, and previous work history.

HINT: As the article says, don’t hesitate to add more parts to the job application and really scrutinise your character.

Write a letter.

Not many people write letters anymore, so this is a great way to learn more about your character’s motivations, their past, their friends, and so on. It’s a good exercise for creating tone and voice as well as vocabulary.

HINT: Don’t post it!

***

Happy writing 🙂

Via: http://writersedit.com/resources-for-writers/4-tips-writing-round-characters/

13 Struggles Only Unpublished Fiction Writers Understand

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First things first. This isn’t an article for all y’all fiction writers who have actually been published. I’m sure you have your problems, but this post is not for you, you beautiful, successful monsters. This post is for the semi-clueless writers whose hearts are still full of hope, with their Word docs full of nonsense plot outlines and six different versions of the same abandoned manuscript. This is for anyone and everyone who is writing a book right now and has no idea what the hell they’re doing, because that’s where I’m at too. If you’re riding on this struggle-bus with me, you know all of these struggles way too well:

1. You never have time to write

Apparently you have to work to pay rent? And see people to maintain friendships? Also, laundry gets dirty, plates don’t wash themselves, and the fridge is not filled by fairies? What! Does not compute???

2. Just kidding — you do have time, and you waste it like nobody’s business

*scrolls into the Twitter abyss*

*calls mum for a catch up*

*finds the lost portal to Narnia*

Oh man, no time to write! Better luck tomorrow.

3. The conditions have to be ‘just so’ when you’re writing

When there’s no pressure, you can write upside down strapped to a rocket. When you’re writing The Novel That Will Make You As Famous As J.K. Rowling, So Help You God, then you need to have a candle burning, a half glass of red wine at your side, and a chimpanzee playing the violin before you’ll even think about opening your laptop.

4. You’re constantly daydreaming about your characters

I’ve apologised to at least ten different stationary objects that I’ve walked into this month alone.

5. You keep getting 40,000 words into something and then immediately want to burn it down

BURN IT ALL DOWN. (Or rename it “ZZZZZ” so it hits the bottom of your Docs folder and you never have to see its ugly mug again.)

6. Whenever someone asks you what kind of story you’re working on, you make this face…

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Which basically says “It’s just this little dumb stupid terrible awful horrible story I’m working on, sort of, kind of, maybe.”

7. And whenever someone asks to read what you’re working on, you make THIS face…

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Whilst thinking “OVER MY DEAD BODY. (Nobody has to read this for it to get published, right? Right??)”.

8. And yet, you’re genuinely concerned about casting the movie for this book you haven’t even finished

Is [insert favourite actor/actress here] available and will they remain available for the next 10-15 years while I’m getting my sh*t together?

9. Friends you didn’t even know were writing a book end up getting published before you do

Congrats, by the way. Can’t wait to read it and love it and eat an entire pack of Oreos consoling myself, you talented pain in the ass.

10. Every 3 weeks or so you are thoroughly convinced that your ideas suck, everything is crap and what the hell were you even thinking?!

Writers are totally emotionally stable, though!! Honestly, we’re fine!! Everything’s great!!!!!!!!! (Help.)

11. Writer’s block is some real sauce

You can stare at that blank page for hours, and end up typing every random word you can think of in the futile quest for inspiration. You start a sentence, and delete it. Get up and make a drink. Type another sentence. Delete it. At the end of the day you have a blank page and a headache from banging your head on the wall. And it’s not like you can talk to anybody about it, because then you’d have to actually admit that you were writing something in the first place.

12. Nobody but you actually cares

Like, you’re a nobody. You have no deadlines, no expectations, and no cheerleaders to provide that much needed praise and admiration for the stinking pile of dog-poop you’re writing. So you are forced to plod on, without reward. Most likely most days you feel dead inside. TELL ME I’M PRETTY, INTERNET.

13. You actually have no freaking idea what to do when you’re done with this giant thing you made

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Click your heels three times, blow some glitter on your manuscript and hope for the best! According to the internet, the “real work” in getting published hasn’t even begun yet.

***

Via: https://www.bustle.com/articles/101031-13-struggles-only-unpublished-fiction-writers-understand