Dealing with fear

Fear paralyses. The solution is certainty. You focus instead on what you know already – and expand your knowledge from there.

We all get nervous sometimes. Life throws big decisions at you, and there’s often no way around them. Just through.

Maybe you’re itching to quit the rat race, and tap into that well of creative energy that’s always been boiling and bubbling in the back of your mind. To make a go of it, and even forge your own creative career. But it’s a hell of a jump, to quit the safety of that day job. How do you even know you’ll succeed?

That’s where you develop your convictions. Yes, it’s a big leap to quit your day job and be a full-time creator. But it doesn’t need to be scary. Not if you’ve done some prior homework, and you’re already certain.

Certainty is worth more than gold. There’s a lot going on in this world, and there’s an awful lot of things we’re unsure of. No one has all the answers. But the ones with an answer, of any kind, are often the ones who get ahead.

Certainty, confidence, experience… it’s all pretty much the same thing. The more you know, the more certain you can be. And for certain people, life has a strange tendency to get out of the way. You just have to know a little more.

It’s like building up a mental toolkit, and keeping those tools clean, sharp and up to date. You develop certain skills and approaches. You keep a close eye on your industry. You have the right information to hand, like a tool, to handle what comes your way. It’s as simple as knowing more.

Take the study of business, for example. Watch enough speakers, gurus, experts and millionaires and you’ll find that the same patterns emerge: that while education punishes us for failing, it can be a badge of honour in the entrepreneurial world. It’s a valuable lesson, priceless experience, and often the springboard to try another venture and get it right. Since no one has a crystal ball, failure is kind of just there anyway.

It’s ok to fail – as long as you learn from it and try another way.

We may delegate our woes to the experts; to the ones who know. Or at least, the ones who appear to know. But qualifications aren’t a guarantee. Experience counts for far more. Are we judging these experts on their results, and the hours they’ve put in to getting them? Or do we believe them because they tell us to?

There are no sacred experts any more. Anyone can be an expert in anything. In our age of information, you could know more about the car you’re buying than the salesman trying to sell it. You could know more about his sales techniques than he does – and watch him using them too. You could know exactly what makes you want that car, and exactly what it’ll take to make you buy it. You could be the most certain person in that dealership… and you could walk away. Maybe you know you could buy it cheaper elsewhere. Maybe you don’t need the car at all. The point is, either way, you’re certain.

It’s the same if you want to make that jump into self-employment. You realise that some people know a lot, and you learn from them. But no one has all the answers, and there’s nothing to stop you knowing as much as anyone else.

There’s a fine line between confidence and ego, but it’s a very solid line too: it’s objective fact. Does your self-employment make enough money for you to live on? Do you sell your works for what they’re worth? Do you have the social proof (reviews, customer feedback) to demonstrate your ability, and point out where you need to improve? Subjective opinion and artistic passions aside, the numbers don’t lie – your work either sells in the marketplace, or it doesn’t.

If you commit to learning everything there is to learn about your art form, and the business, and (crucially) how to make that sale to support yourself, then there’s nothing to stop you from making the leap to self-employment.

To deal with fear, educate yourself. Strive to know more than the average bear. Get certain.

Now buy my books.


“I want to write books too.”

“That’s great!” I’d reply eagerly, once upon a time. Now, my response is an eyelid twitch. A grind of the teeth, and a thought:

Please tell me what I’m supposed to do with your statement. Please tell me what to tell you, to make this conversation end. My imaginary friends need me.

One does not simply want books into existence. There’s a long part in the middle, with tapping sounds. And coffee, and sighs. And rage. At stupid o’clock in the morning, through to headache o’clock at night. And repeat.

Writers aren’t special. They’re not tortured artists, and they’re not some ethereal class of people doing the work of the gods. We’re a keyboard peripheral, made of bones and tendons and squishy staring brains. We’re strange and often alone, and may well tick the boxes on the crazy test. But we work. We read, watch, listen, learn. Until we can never really switch off.

I want to write books too, or the closely related I really want to be an author, are fantastic aspirations. But if that’s all you’ve got in that bag of ambitions, expect people to get real tired, real quick.

An aspiring painter can want to beat the sistine chapel. The working painters of the world won’t fall prostrate before them, and wonder starry-eyed at their grand ambitions. That painter learns the sistine chapel in detail, and works.

Wanting things to happen is bullshit. We get to work like everyone else, or we don’t eat. If we don’t have the time, then we make time. There’s no easy way.

So here it is: the truth we should be told in college. There is no creative community. It’s pure meritocracy, and we’re largely in it alone. We’re in this for a love of the work itself, and for the fans we might attract along the way. There’s plenty of guidance out there, to encourage us and point us in the right direction. But when it comes down to it, you’re on your own. You work, and work bloody hard.

You don’t tell anyone that you want to write a book. It fools you into thinking that it’s already well underway. You keep your mouth firmly shut, and let your keyboard do the talking. You publish something crappy, and improve next time. That’s the only way it’s done.

Anyone can want to write a book. Anyone can want to do anything.

Be the one who stops talking about it, and do it.


On zen, writing and perfect sushi

At 91 years old, Jiro Ono is widely regarded as the world’s greatest sushi chef.

He owns and runs Sukiyabashi Jiro, a small and unassuming restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district – which serves only sushi, and seats only ten. Prospective diners wait months for a reservation, and include world leaders. The food’s simple, and the venue’s quite plain. It has three Michelin stars.

Walk-in enquirers, sometimes taken back by the prices for such simple food, aren’t given the time of day. They don’t get it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushia fascinating documentary, delves deep into the life and mentality of chef Jiro Ono. His work ethic, his lifelong constancy, and his absolute commitment to serving only perfectly cooked rice and only the most flavoursome fatty tuna from the market. Uncooked, of course. Again, this isn’t flashy food. But a vast wealth of experience, and near-impossible standards of quality, are hard at work behind the scenes.

His eldest son Yoshikazu, following in his father’s footsteps, worries that he’ll never escape his shadow – or live up to his legacy. Not a legacy of flashy food in opulent surroundings, but of perfect food in largely irrelevant surroundings. A legacy of the sheer time and pressure involved in doing one thing to the point of perfection. Colossal, monumental, singleness of purpose.

Jiro’s passion for simplicity is absolutely inspiring to me. I hope, in time, that I can learn from it and apply it to my writing. But hope and action are two very different things. I need to commit myself to intense practise, and years of it.

My early writing was eager to impress. It used big words that no one says in conversation. I cut them out; trimmed the fat. I learned that effective writing isn’t out to dazzle and peacock to its readers, but to communicate efficiently. There are no cornucopias here.

My first novel is wandering and verbose. I think one of my reviewers put it like that, and they’re right. Tabitha’s sequel, less so – I hope. And I’d like the third book to be even more refined. Clarity, brevity and simplicity are key. But still with the invented words and moments of sense-blurring transcendence that I believe the story needs.

I write, edit and proofread my books, without input from anyone but my Amazon reviewers. The self-reliance appeals, even if it does take more time. That’s how I like to work. I’m hardly Jiro Ono, and it’d be egotistical to think I’m made of the same stuff. But that path to perfection definitely appeals.

Some readers enjoy my writing, and some don’t. But every review teaches me to become a better writer – whether their opinions massage my ego, or kick it in the balls. It takes me much longer to accept criticism than praise, but both teach me valuable lessons. To write less, and say more.

When I look up long enough from my own world to think about it, I’m extremely grateful to these people. Because they buy my stories, and it’s enough for me to live on and write their stories full-time. I owe it to these people, to be better. I’ll never reach perfection, but I’ll try my hardest.

But that’s enough of the sentimentality. Let’s end with a lesson in zen. Nothing mystical; only plain-terms and normal-life. It’s a film quote from chef Jiro Ono, about his lifelong passion – but it seems to me like a beautiful meditation:

“Shokunin try to get the highest-quality fish and apply their technique to it.

We don’t care about money.
All I want to do is make better sushi.
I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit.
There is always a yearning to achieve more.
I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top,
But no one knows where the top is.
Even at my age, I don’t think I have achieved perfection.
But I feel ecstatic all day.
I love making sushi.”


Making your book feel real

When we’re writing a novel, it can feel like there’s nothing real or tangible about all the work we’re putting in.

No one can see or touch a book we’re still working on, and it doesn’t take up physical space in the world until it’s finally published. It isn’t physically built or crafted in the meantime.

It’s not like a song, a painting or a piece of woodwork; it’s not extroverted to the world. Often we don’t see any obvious change and progression. Sometimes that can be disheartening – or put us off the work completely.

We could work for months or years on a project with nothing but thoughts and a manuscript, both hidden away from the world. Maybe that’s why we can feel like “working on our novel” seems like non-work to other people. A non-entity.

We have nothing to show for all the time we spend working on a story – at least not until it’s a finished book. But why shouldn’t a novel take a physical form during the writing process? Why can’t we make it a real fixture, if that helps us in our work and motivation?

Try filling a wall or two with your novel-in-progress.

It’s often more powerful and effective when writing a book – especially for visual thinkers – to turn those ideas into a physical entity. To make that work seem real and tangible, taking up physical space in the world. It can give us some mental breathing room, too – to get all those ideas out of our heads.

Over the past few years I’ve been developing my own approach to writing books, and making them feel more real while I write them. It builds and changes with each book, but I’ve listed the essentials below.

Sequence your story on a wall or two. Nothing’s better than taking a day to step back from your novel, and work with paper and pins instead. I’ll start every book with a sequence of post-it notes, (beginning, middle and end,) and then expand out the points with more post-its. Creating a kind of timeline on the wall, to build and refer back to. (Google images of “project management wall” for ideas.)

Have images around that inspire you. I love films, graphic novels and concept art. They fire up my imagination, and I can’t escape their influence in my writing. If a certain image inspires me then I’ll cut it out or print it, and stick it to a wall to remind me of the ideas and characters I’m trying to create. It’s about building up a visual world in your head, around the core ideas for your book.

Write about your novel. Being inside your story constantly can get intense. It’s often helpful to step back once in a while, take a felt-tip pen, and remind yourself of what you actually want your book to achieve. Try pinning a blank strip of wallpaper horizontally on a wall, for a large plain writing surface, and just spill your ideas on it. What do you want your story to be for your readers? What do you want your character to grow into? What stage do you want your book to be at, month by month? What’s your deadline for the project? All this can make a book feel more real, more achievable… and taken more seriously.

Chart your story’s three acts. Think of a rollercoaster, or a seismograph. Peaks and troughs. Your story could take the same shape on a chart, so draw it out to visualise it. A peak of drama for the first act, then back down to relative calm; then a bigger peak for the second act, and the biggest peak for the third act’s dramatic finale. This can give you a better feel for what each act needs to achieve for your readers.

Sketch characters, objects and locations. Ideas come in different forms. It could be a landscape you envision in your story, or a family heirloom; maybe a weapon or a creature, or a certain outfit. Even down to a pet, an artwork or a certain textile pattern that you’d like to have around in a character’s home. You don’t have to be an artist to sketch it out, and doodles aren’t just for kids. If it’s good for the story, and creates a clearer mental image for your readers, sketch it out before you write about it.

Choreograph the action. This was a revelation for me. It can be hard to visualise complex action like a fight scene all in your head – a very visual and physical thing – and then try to translate it into words on a page. A fantastic way to bridge the gap is to do what they do in the movies: plan it out. Draw it. Choreograph where you need your ‘actors’ to be, what they need to do and when. Sketch the powerful visual descriptions, and chart the movement of the action across the location. The action sequences in all those films you love aren’t just freestyled by the actors on the day of the shoot – they’re planned and choreographed to the finest detail, weeks and months in advance.

Go back to the wall. Your first draft’s coming on well. Maybe you’re even halfway there. This is a great time to step back again from your written world and update your novel’s physical counterpart, laid out on the wall. If things need cutting or re-ordering, print them out and take scissors to them. Have all your notes and events on their own slips of paper, and sequence them afresh. See if you could lose any sections in the process, to move the story along. See which parts of your story need a little more attention and fleshing out – or what still needs to happen for point A to reach point B, C and D. They aren’t just handwritten notes any more – your novel’s typed up and very real. And it’s taking up a whole damn wall.

So – there you go. I hope these tips help you in writing your own novels, and I’d love to know any tips of your own in the comments below.

I really can’t stress enough how much “The Wall” helped me in writing my own novels, and continues to help me now. If you’re having troubles or doubts about your own book project, or if it just doesn’t feel real to you, then try it out. Take up a wall somewhere and go full Prison Break/serial killer on it. Set out every little detail about your book if it helps.

If your novel just doesn’t feel real and physical enough for you, then make it real. Make it physical. Turn your intangible ideas into a very visible project.

How to kill procrastination

Learn how to win at what you do. And win more often.

Know, way deep down, that you’re producing your best work yet. With all your heart and soul, and a piece of your finite life poured right into it.

It’s the reason lots of people hate their jobs: maybe they suck at them. I’ve been there before. There’s no win; no reward for our brain. No point in putting in the effort, over and over, just to feel bad and prove that we’re a failure.

But if we learn everything there is to know about that job, and practise constantly, and get really, really good at it – suddenly it might not seem so bad. Maybe people see a positive change in us. Maybe there’s a promotion involved. Maybe we’re headhunted by someone else, who’ll pay us more. We’re in a state of Epic Winning. We’re getting chemical rewards in our brainbox for making the sale, or getting the class good grades, or sweeping the street like a god-damn pro so the whole town can use it without getting ankle-deep in rats, and rubbish, and dog shit.

Alternatively, find a new job. Something you do love and care about, and want to be exceptional at. There’s just no greater feeling. It’s fucking incredible.

If you take pride in your job, and get really damn good at it, there just won’t be the will to put it off and procrastinate. You’ll enjoy the work, because it rewards you and helps other people. With more effort comes even greater rewards, and even more people you’ve helped. Suddenly there’s a lure and a pull, and a power, to go back to it.

Here’s another example. Do we put off breathing for another time, when we’ll have more energy and willpower to do it? For most of us, probably not. There’s a reward involved – we get to not suffocate. We get to carry on living.

It’s a win.

The effort of breathing gives us a worthwhile reward. Such a big reward, in fact, that our bodies don’t even leave it up to us whether we breathe. They take care of that. Left up to us, we might well put off breathing, or eating, or sleeping, until we can be bothered to do it. Not the best survival strategy, to leave the essentials of life up to our fickle whims and willpower. I’d have dropped dead by now, if breathing and hunger took a constant, conscious effort.

So – procrastination. Whether it’s the next novel, or a workout, or even just doing the dishes… get a win involved. Get supremely good at it, and track your results, and feel the reward afterwards. Or have a certain reward lined up when you finish. Time yourself on those dishes, then go back next time and beat your personal best. Or enjoy that growing feeling that you’re in full control of your life, your home, your destiny. Whatever gives you that winning rush.

If we only take the time to search for the win beyond the effort – or put a powerful reward there ourselves – then we suddenly get all the motivation we need to see something through. And go back again, and improve.

Crucially, put in the time and effort to understand the task and get really, really good at it – whether it’s your job, or writing a book, or just washing the car – because the way to kill procrastination is to replace it with The Win.

You’ll get addicted. You’ll get energised. You’ll want to help people with what you do. You may even get a healthier bank balance, and give the people you care about a better life. And be in a position to give something back to the people you want to help.

Get a winning chain reaction going, from first thing in the morning to the moment you go to sleep, and you’ll begin to wonder what procrastination even means. People are counting on you. Your ambitions are counting on you.

And, as a happy side effect, you’ll also be living every aspect of your life like a fucking boss.

Think about the reward for the effort, the payoff, and get addicted to it. Get really, really good at what you do – and be the hardest-working person you know.

Most importantly, be the most practised person you know, and never stop practising. Hold yourself to impossible standards, and shoot for them anyway.

Find the win.

How to become a full-time author

It takes work. But with platforms like Kindle, the opportunity’s certainly there.

You don’t need to wait for a publisher to pick you. You could be waiting for a very long time. If you’d prefer to see results, and an income from your fiction writing, then I’d say just publish yourself.

Of course, you’ll need books out there and making income to be able to quit your day job. Your first book won’t be as good as your second, and that won’t be as good as your third. Realistically, expect to write several books over months and years before you’re able to make liveable money from what you publish. That’s just how it is.

The trick here is patience, and developing a system that works for you. That works around your job and family life. Maybe you’d write for an hour or two in the morning, and then for two, three, four or five hours after work. It just depends what you can manage on any given night.

And probably the occasional fevered all-nighter, when you finally get that book set up and published on the Kindle store. But, sleeplessness aside,  it’s also the greatest feeling in the world to get your creation out there, into the Real.

There’ll be days at work when you’re exhausted, and bad-tempered. Maybe even thoroughly pissed off.  But you tell yourself it’ll be worth it. One day, sometime soon, you’ll have your own books out there in the world.

All you have to do is give yourself a push. Push yourself every day into building the next chapter in that book. Your first efforts won’t be your best, but no writer is ever done improving. There’s always plenty of room to refine your style.

But at least if you get started now, and put your writing out there in the world, you’ll get a taste to write more books and see where your craft can improve. You’ll find out who your audience is, and what they want to read. You can’t learn how to write for a certain market until you actually start doing it, and making some necessary mistakes. But have the confidence to just do it.

There’s only really one way to become a full-time author, and that’s to figure it out for yourself. Experts can point the way, but you never really know things until you’ve learned them first-hand. Personal experience is pure gold.

How do you become a full-time author? Get started. Teach yourself. Find out what works through trial and error. Practise obsessively, give up some social life, and work your ass off. That’s really the only way.

But it’s entirely possible. It takes practise, but it’s also the most rewarding career in the world. To do what you love, and create stories that other people love too? It’s a dream job! There’s no better way for our kind to spend our time.

And you can absolutely do it full-time, for life, if you get started and learn from those inevitable early mistakes. It’s all about pushing on through to improve.

Every author had to start out this way. Is it mind-mashingly hard work? Yes. But is it worth it too, when you can step away from a day job and build your own creative career?

Hell yeah it is.


Do give up your day job.

And don’t let anyone spook or shame you out of it.

No one will, anyway. Your friends and family will be happy for you. And if they’re not happy for you, well… why are you hanging around them?

Most folks you don’t know, don’t care. There really isn’t anyone holding you back from self-employment. So it could be that the only one spooking you out of that choice, is you.

Yes, it’s a big decision. It could be a scary one, until you get some perspective on life. But if you can afford to take a year or more, and still handle all your responsibilities, why shouldn’t you take a running jump and work for yourself? Life’s short. Don’t look back on it and wonder what if.

You wouldn’t be reading this post if you didn’t already have a certain itch, or maybe a drawn-out craving, to throw up your hands and walk out of your job. If the thought’s tormenting you, daily, then there’s probably a very good reason. Your thoughts, dreams, ambitions – maybe even your body itself – wants you out of there. You’ve got things to do. Your own things. Don’t just ignore it.

You’ll need a plan, of course. You’ll need savings to live on until you can turn a profit. There’s a lot to learn about business. But it’s all out there, if you look for it. YouTube’s a gift from the gods.

But just please, don’t, go into debt. If you can’t turn a profit and keep your head above water, you just won’t survive working for yourself. The point is to make profit. If a business doesn’t do that, it’s not a business. Commit to learning more about your market, your industry, and your potential for profit, before you jump in and work for yourself.

You’ll have to take care of your own taxes too, of course. It’s not a frolic in the park with kittens and puppies, but then again most things aren’t. That’s why we have things like frolics in the park with kittens and puppies, to take our minds off it all. (That’s a business idea right there, see.)

You’ll also need to understand cashflow and returns on investment. Understand assets and liabilities. Know that while riches are measured in money, wealth is measured in time. You’re saving up money to buy back a year or more of your life for yourself – and your own ambitions. And if all this sounds strangely like a certain Robert Kiyosaki, that’s because I learned all this from him. If you don’t know who he is – and you want to work for yourself – then get knowing.

Most importantly, take your feelings out of the equation and look at whether the numbers you make are the kind of numbers you can live on. If not, you’ll need to work out how to make those numbers slightly bigger before you take the plunge. Get a feeling for sales, and the processes involved. Again, it’s all out there in books, articles, podcasts and videos.

Is there a chance you could fail? Of course. Most businesses fail. That’s always on my mind. It just depends whether you’re willing to move on to the next business idea, and take the plunge again into self-employment. Just make sure it’s a calculated risk – a decision coming from a place of knowledge and experience. Passion’s the rocket fuel, of course… but it’s counting on there being a functioning rocket engine to work through. A boring, horrible but learnable rocket engine, made of finance and maths.

Funny thing is though, finance suddenly becomes very interesting when there’s more of your own finance around. And it’s going into your bank account every month. You get to like this finance stuff. You suddenly want to make more of all this wonderful finance. You’ll write love songs to the stuff. Oh, glorious finance, you shall say. As you stare longingly from the window, clutch your aching heart, and sigh. My sweet darling, finance. How did I ever live without you.

But anyway. Passion’s crucial, but it won’t put money in your pocket. You need cold hard facts for that. Make sure you know the facts about your market, and your industry – like whether there’s really enough market demand for that idea to turn a profit – before you jump in.

Not a day goes by when I don’t worry about making enough money in the future to keep working for myself. But that goes with the territory. It’s a risk.

It’s also a risk I’m more than happy to take. Over and over, for the rest of my life. Because none of us really know what freedom feels like, until we actually work for ourselves. Creative freedom, financial freedom… general life freedom. The kind that America sings songs about. Y’know, all the eagles and flags and apple pie. Yep, you’ll finally get the appeal. Freedom’s really, really, nice.

So how about you? Are you ready to do this self-employed thing, or what?

Truth is, there’s never a good time to take that kind of jump. But you don’t know what you’re missing until you do.



Writing has to be one of the strangest ways to make a living.

We’ll spend hours, days and weeks alone with our thoughts. Obsessing over people who don’t exist and what they say to each other. Building landscapes and cities that need to feel every bit as true and alive as the real thing.

When those thoughts come easily, and we’re off on a mad one, there’s no better feeling in the world.

But when they don’t… well, it gets tricky to make a living as a writer when we just can’t write. It feels like the ideas have dried up to dust. The whole shaky edifice that held up all our creative confidence suddenly topples down.

The trick is this: momentum.

There’s no easy way to get a truck, train, plane or tanker on the move. It takes a massive amount of energy to make it budge. Those first gears do some incredible heavy lifting to get those tons of metal to a rolling start.

We could think of novel writing in the same way. A book’s a lumbering beast; a conjured machine. Strutted and pannelled, patiently, over time. Tweaked and tested and built from the ground up, and punctuated with a million rivets. It’s like building the Titanic.

(And just hoping that it doesn’t actually turn into the Titanic.)

If you’ve lost all momentum, step back for a day. Take the anxieties out of your head, down onto a blank page. Write your thoughts, your problems, and all the ways you could work around them. Google images, music or concept art that inspires you.

You need to think back to the ideas that fired you up in the first place. Go back over that same ground, because there’s far more there to explore. What was the essence of that idea you loved? What’s the dramatic burning question that your novel asks about your characters, and what’s the most compelling way to answer it? Could the hero’s journey template show you what to write next?

Another tactic to rebuild that creative momentum is trance. It could be a string of thoughts, or the right music, or a glass of something you like. Whatever causes your thinking to turn a different corner, and follow a new path, and start to dig up those things you love from your subconscious.

Maybe it’s as simple as writing a single question on a sheet of paper, and giving it every answer you can think of:

What’s the coolest thing that could happen next in this story?

But the ultimate end, of course, is to shunt those ideas back into first gear. Maybe they’re half-baked, or simplistic; who cares? You’ve got a word count to hit today, and you’re damn well going to hit it. Even if you have to stare at that screen for an hour and type I hate this novel a hundred times over. You could even take that frustration or anxiety and pour it into your character’s head, and put it in their own words for their own situation.

It’s about resourcefulness. Use every thought, feeling, object and situation around you to feed back into your story. Writing a novel takes over our lives because it becomes our permanent state of mind. Our filter on the world.

But it all feeds into that momentum. Just take a walk, and start thinking. Take to heart what your readers love. Write something new; a different character. Or take a day to visit a new place with a notepad. It all counts.

Once your momentum’s going again then you’ll be back to writing your best words yet. Improving yourself, and your story, with every fresh sentence. That momentum will feed itself too, as long as you keep the ideas coming and keep getting back in that chair.

It’s like moving a train from standstill, over and over, every single day. The hardest part will always be getting started.

But if you can figure out exactly what fires you up, and just what it takes to get that heavy first gear moving, then you’ll know how to break that standstill every single time.

All it takes is a spark.

Ghost excerpt: the concert in the ruins

A polite cough; a gentle old smile. A small ragged group hunched over strange instruments; scorched originals and makeshift approximations. A string quintet, of sorts. Dwarfed by the rubble, curving up behind them like a ruined theatre. The young solemn lead shouldered a strange charred something, like a violin. Took steady breaths in the shuffling silence, and blocked the crowd from his mind. Running the bow across otherworldly strings he produced a rising solo, rich and baroque; an abrupt gentle melody that carried through the sunlit gardens. Joined by the rest in full joyous harmony. Painting bright living music on the cool air that followed the storm; gilded and statuesque to hear. Such a strange sudden beauty, among the ruins and sunlit rubble; a burst of hope like a lightning bolt. High rapid notes like glorious birdsong. The village was gathering to see; parents held young staring children high against their shoulders to watch. Weary people, beaten and grieving; gathering around a precious remnant of better times. Kids and teenagers listened with fresh novelty. They’d heard of physical music, but it’d been out of fashion for two centuries or more. But older villagers smiled along to the tune in gentle familiarity; one lady beamed and clutched her hands dearly to her heart like she was a little girl again. One small figure in a tired happy gathering, standing close around their joyous music. For a few fleeting minutes, the sounds were the most precious thing in the world.

Tabitha looked on the scene from a distance, smiling despite herself. Leaning against a damp stone pillar in the outer cloisters. Listening in utter rapture to a gorgeous artwork, strummed and sawed and strung in silver-sweet divinities. A hopeful glimpse of civilisation, in the city’s torn hazing ruins. In a while the music took a melancholy turn; a brief mournful interlude that faded into solemn silence. And then, rising. Harder, and determined; colder and more beautiful than before. Constant stabbing notes, like ice and steel. Building, relentlessly, to a coming crescendo. The young man stood suddenly and broke into a hard slicing solo. So cold and fast and intense that the whole dead birdsung city stopped to listen. His face was set in stern determination, as he played rapid-fire in fierce virtuoso. Making his mark on this dim dying world, whether it wanted him or not. Years of endless practise, distilled in the greatest minute of his life. The quartet joined in the hard gorgeous harmony; the crowd watched in spellbound silence. Other races watched the strange music in stunned fascination, wondering at such beauty; as if the gods themselves had descended. Tabitha felt such a full sudden rising in her chest. Fresh purpose. But it wasn’t the art or the talent she saw in those people. It wasn’t even about the music, beautiful as it was. It was that energy; that dedication. Undying commitment to something greater and more perfect than themselves. To conjure thoughts and tears from wood and string and hard scorched silence. Carving angels from solid sound. The kind of will and artful determination that’d built this ancient city in the first place.

The kind that could rebuild it too, Tabitha told herself, as the quintet faded and the crowd applauded like they’d never hear music again. All they need is a fighting chance.


How to write a better story


Use the Hero’s Journey blueprint.

It takes all the guesswork out of “what should happen next?”.

It’s also the instant cure for “writer’s block”, (which I don’t believe in,) because it gives you the exact instructions to follow at any given point in your story. In short, we have no excuse.

All you need to do is snap your own characters onto the template, and get to work with your own original dialogue and creative ideas.

I don’t remember ever being taught about the Hero’s Journey concept in an English class, but it’s essentially the DNA of any good story – because it’s human DNA too. When I stumbled across it during my self-taught YouTube adventures, it was a total revelation.

Everyone should know it, and not just writers. It explains how we work; how we think. Why we see the world in stories and have an endless addiction to them. It’s why we’ve ditched stone, clay, vellum and paper for ebooks and video, and digital ink – but why we’ll always crave the story itself. The delivery system doesn’t matter.

The Hero’s Journey was coined by Joseph Campbell, who researched myths and fables from all over the world, from radically different peoples and cultures, and identified the exact same pattern in every tale. The human story. It was this:

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”


It’s the story of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. We all relate to it. It’s the twelve-valve engine inside every great story, from Star Wars and The Hobbit to Alien and The Hunger Games. It’s the hero torn from their status quo, to face trials and monsters in the Dark Beyond. And emerge, victorious; stronger and wiser for the challenge. Returning to their status quo, but upgraded within themselves. It’s Jesus in the desert, and Daenerys in the desert, and Furiosa in the desert. It’s the Buddha beneath the tree. It’s Exodus and Beowulf; Prometheus and Gilgamesh.

In essence, it’s “Boy/girl done good. But it was shitty to get there.”

Like four drunk losers leaving a certain Shire, later to return with fine armour and mental scars. And haunted physical scars. But also the immeasurable pride of having saved their peaceful home. For some, especially with haunted physical scars, it’s a home they’ve outgrown, and they have to move on to their next hero’s journey right away.

It’s such a primal narrative that we can all identify with it. Right down at an instinctual, caveman level. It’s the story of growth and survival: risking life and limb for the good of the tribe. It’s the trial; the initiation; the coming of age.

There’s food over there, on the far side of that forest. Enough to keep us all from starving to death. But there’s a jaguar in the way. If you brave that danger, you’ll get your reward. You’ll be the hero.

It’s why some stories seem to be blatant copies of others. It’s why there’s only so many tales in existence, and why there’s nothing new under the sun. Because times change, but people tend not to. For all of our advances, we’re still hardwired with the ancient stuff. The survival story.

I could go into the details of the blueprint itself, but the video below does a far better job of explaining things visually. (There’s also a longer version here that goes into more detail.)

I hope this helps you to write better stories, and more of them!