Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who want to write but can’t is that they just can’t find the time. And I want so badly to laugh, because I’m like, ‘YoU tHiNk I hAvE tImE tO wRiTe?’ I don’t. Even without a 9-5 Real Job™️, there are chores to do, errands to run, social and family obligations to fulfill, self care to do to keep from going completely off my rocker, etc. So, how do you find time in a busy schedule?

Mood

The first thing, and this is going to sound harsh, and I don’t mean it to. You have to be absolutely truthful, because it’s not easy. How badly do you want to write? When you’re overworked, sometimes you need to rest, and that’s healthy.  That’s got to take priority. When you’re stressed and it’s just easier to go along with someone else’s plan, that’s fine, do what you have to do.

But if writing is your therapy or god forbid, your job, you have to prioritise it. You have to carve out time. And sometimes that means other things don’t get done (not rest and self care. Rest and self care first, ALWAYS), or you have to put up boundaries and say no to people, or ask someone else to help you out. The reality is that there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes if some of those go to writing, they have to be taken away from something or someone else.

That out of the way, there is a method that I find helpful, when the schedule looks super packed, and it’s called the Pomodoro Method.

Basically, the Pomodoro Method is a system of time management cut into 25-minute chunks with a 10-minute break in between. This is like a High Intensity Interval Training workout for your brain. You focus super hard for 25 minutes, take a 10-minute break (stretch your wrists, get a drink, walk around), then hit it again.

This is super effective for me. I can get from 600-800 words in 25 minutes. It’s said that Terry Pratchett wrote 400 words a day, so I beat him every day. I work for two hours on a project from the hours of 5-7 am, so on a good day when I hit the ground running, I can get 3-4 Pomodoros in, which can be up to a maximum of 2400 words, which isn’t bad for a day’s work.

I like to combine my pomodoros with music, rain sounds, and scented candles. Even better if my cat is in a cuddly mood and I have a cup of coffee to sip in my breaks. It also sometimes helps to have a friend to add a bit of competitive pressure. I have a friend I meet with online every Friday at Stupid O’Clock in the morning. We have a chat, sprint (what it sounds like- a chunk of intense writing) for 30 minutes, compare wordcounts, say our talk-to-you-laters, and go about the rest of our days. It’s really nice and keeps me on track, for 30 minutes out of the week, if nothing more.

So, if you’re serious about writing and you just can’t seem to find the time, ask yourself, ‘can I find 25 minutes?’ Sometimes, that’s all you need.

If you’ve read Golden, you’ll know that Lady Johanne loves her garden. In her story, her husband’s physical absence during the war and emotional absence at home drove her to find a distraction, ending up with a passion for gardening. After the war and her husband’s death, she moved herself and her daughter to her uncle’s house, Ellenly, where she was allowed to manage his ancient garden according to her tastes.

I was going to do this all in one post, but whoo boy, is there a lot to talk about. The Georgians loved gardening.

So, today, we’re going to get into why country gardens are such a thing, what they represent, and what they were used for.

Wealth

Obviously, you have to have land to have a garden. Land is everything to the gentry. That’s what landed gentry means, you’re not just a noble by blood, you have an estate that generates income.

Then you need money to hire gardeners, you need money to buy the plants, which are sometimes exotic and imported, and then also need special tending like greenhouses, etc.

Some gardens have features like fountains (which are purely aesthetic, meaning they’re not used to water anything, and they require engineering and access to a water source), or ancillary buildings like gazebos. Some were designed by famous professional designers (watch this space for a post about Capability Brown, the most famous landscape designer of the age).

Leisure

To design, tend, and enjoy a garden, you have to have time. Sure, peasants had vegetable gardens, and the big houses had little veggie gardens that served the houses attached to the kitchens, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Easily, the only fresh air and exercise a wealthy person got in a day was a stroll through the grounds. And of course, you couldn’t grab your hand weights and power walk across the sweeping lawns. You had to dress up, get together with your fancy friends, and stroll. And it has to be beautiful, or what’s the point?

Taste

Like everything else about wealth and class, everything you did was on display, and everything was a competition. It wasn’t enough to have a garden, you had to have the best garden. You couldn’t call your friends, so, really, the only way to socialise was to physically visit. So, there were parties and house calls and tea, and all the rest of it, a lot of which happened in the garden. So, your garden had better be on point. And if you saw someone’s garden that was better, you improved yours. And the cycle repeats. You added a new maze or a new hybrid or a water feature or hire a landscaper; whatever you had to do that set your garden apart.

Ok, so, you want to take the plunge and get Scrivener. Good choice, I approve. It’s a gamechanger.

But the programme for your Mac or PC is $50 for Mac, $45 for Windows, and $80 for both (unless you won NaNo and got the discount code) and the app for iOS is $20. Ouch, I hear you. I have the Windows version on my laptop and the app on my iPad, so here’s my breakdown of what’s great and not so great about each.

Just to get it out of the way early: yes, I am an affiliate for Scrivener. No, I am not raking in dough every month because of it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve made anything at all from it. But I do love it, so it’s not gross to promote it. I see it as my responsibility to inform people like me of a product that will help them, and help out a company that has helped me.

Onward.

Scrivener is basically a souped up word processor/binder/so much more. So, if you have Microsoft Word and Evernote and many many copies of different drafts if your stories, do you even need Scrivener? Maybe not, but wouldn’t it be nice to have it all in one place?

But the purpose of this article isn’t to pitch Scrivener as a whole, but to help you decide which version is right for you. I do wish there was a way for people who had bought the desktop version to get a discount on the app, but I don’t know what bureaucratic hoops would be involved in that, so for the time being, let’s assume it’s one or the other. I also wish there was a version for Android, and we are promised one sometime in 2018 (that’s not a typo, I checked. We are late by nearly 2 years), but until then, we’ll have to make some choices.

Firstly, the device you have. I was never much for typing on my phone, and still only do it as a last resort. So, if you don’t have an iPad, I’d say right off, stick with the desktop. If you’re cool with your phone or have an iPad, read on.

Secondly, what kind of physical space do you have? I travel a lot, which means I’m on planes a lot, and the seatback tables make typing on my laptop a real inconvenience, to the point of being nearly impossible. That was my primary motivation for buying an iPad in the first place: I need something more portable, and iPad won out over Galaxy Note because it could run Scrivener. I was lucky enough to snag it when Prime was having a big sale.

So, if space isn’t an issue, then the desktop is grand, and if you need something more portable, go with the app.

Thirdly, features. Scrivener has A Lot of features. An overwhelming amount of features. It’s great if you’re a control freak like me and like to make sure everything is absolutely perfect, but if that sounds scary, there’s a solution. The desktop version has everything, it is full service. It even has a tutorial to get you started and every fresh document also has tutorials. The app is much more streamlined. The trouble with that is that it takes a fair bit of random tapping sometimes to see if it can do what you want it to do. That being said, the bells and whistles that are missing from the app won’t improve or impede your story or process, they’re really very surface level mods that would probably slow it down or make it too big and clumsy a file. I don’t really miss them.

So, there you have it. If you’re landlocked and you like full power at your fingertips, it’s the desktop for you. If you travel and only need the basics (and already have the iPad), go with the app. Obviously, the best choice is both (and they sync through Dropbox, so you never lose your work), but if you’re between checks, are a casual writer, or just resent buying the same programme twice, I hope this has helped.

Wow, February went a lot faster than January, didn’t it? I’m surprised I actually managed to get this book read on time! I’ve had it on my list for a long time, and bumped it up after I wrote my own retelling of the Goose Girl, Golden.

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There are so many books out there, Misfits. So many books. Usually, in my efforts to sample as many as I can, I will read the first book of a series, and if it’s good, but doesn’t grab hold of my core, I thank it for its story and move on. Very rarely do I move on to book two. Almost never do I preorder the thing.

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Travel is fun. You get to see interesting things, meet interesting people. And some places are special because of their relative location on the map, the fact of being place markers, or because of just how hard it is to get to them. Many of these places have traditions surrounding them, but the ones we’ll be discussing today are line crossing ceremonies.

A line crossing ceremony refers to a sort of ritual performed among the crew when a ship crosses a significant ocean line, usually the Equator, though there are specifics for other lines or landmarks as well. These ceremonies are usually performed by navies, merchant navies, and sometimes passenger cruises or sail training ships, as well. The important point is that by crossing a significant line in the ocean, you join a community of other people who also are considered well traveled sailors, called Shellbacks. Those who have not are called Pollywogs.

‘frolicsome’

History

The tradition seems to date back to the 17th century, during the Age of Exploration, when the sea was teeming with ships and sailors, crisscrossing the globe in search of gold, exotic goods, land, and less respectable trade, such as slaves.

What happened

The ceremonies themselves had a wide variety of events, ranging from silly to bizarre to dangerous to outright brutal assault. The captain would sometimes dress as a priestess of Poseidon, or as the god himself, and direct the crew in various feats and tasks to prove themselves worthy of the sea. They may be forced to strip naked and crawl through disgusting substances like garbage and tar, they might have soap and paint put in their mouths, they could be made to endure a ducking stool (a notorious torture device used during witch trials), and there would often be beatings with such things as firehoses, wet rope, or rods. Some sailors were seriously injured and even killed.

Why?

So, why go through all of this? Well, the main reason is the same as the rationale behind hazing- shared trauma is great for bonding. It’s also thought to toughen up the crew because the sea can be harsh, and also it breaks down a person’s ability to protest an order, no matter how onerous the task. In a storm or during a battle, you have to obey commands quickly, and can’t stand around arguing with your commanding officer.

Today, though, it’s mostly for morale, entertainment, and for the honour of being able to call yourself a Shellback. Rules are strictly laid out, now, and are adhered to carefully. When the rules are broken, the consequences are severe.

Martinette

In my short story, Martinette, Sulat joins a ship called Martinette, which is a merchant vessel. The route takes the crew through a rough and unpredictable patch of sea called The Squalls, but before they get there, they perform a crossing ceremony to bond the crew and prepare them for the ordeal they’re about to face. Sulat doesn’t see much of the storm, but she still has to go through the ceremony to earn the title of Lobster (the opposite being a ‘heifer’).

I won’t tell you what happens, though. You have to read it for yourself.

Happy new year, Misfits! I hope 2020 is treating you well, so far.

I started a new thing, over in the Merry Misfits Book Club on Facebook. This year, instead of picking one book to read, like traditional book clubs, or letting you choose your own books according to a theme, which I tried last year snd it didn’t work, this year, I’m picking a theme, giving you a choice between two that fit the theme, with the option to read neither and instead try one of my books.

It’s hard to say so early in the year if it’s working out any better yet. It’s certainly quieter, though I can’t tell if it’s the structure of the choices or just the madness of January. Who knows? All I know is I finished my book well ahead of when I’d planned to, and now I’m gonna get into it.

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One word: STREAMLINE

Two years ago, I found out about the One Word trend, where you choose a word to be your focus for the coming year. I did not achieve my goal last year, for a variety of reasons, so this year, I’m hoping that I can accomplish a new one, and perhaps the previous one, as a result.

So, my One Word this year is STREAMLINE.

Thanks, NASA

To me, streamlining refers to removing blockages and complications to allow the free flowing of of a project- removing everything that detracts from maximum efficiency.

This applies to my personal life, as well as my work. I have been severely reducing, decluttering, and organising my life, and I’ve found it a wonderfully freeing feeling, allowing me to focus my attention and efforts on things I love, rather than acquiring heaps and heaps of things I hope will make me happy, and only ending up weighed down by a mound of crap.

For my professional life, streamlining means detailed planning of my social media strategy, writing blog posts and newsletters in advance, and automating Facebook and Instagram posts. The theory is that with social media posts (note: NOT engagement) done way ahead of time, I can focus on writing, editing, working with my team, reading for pleasure, and responding to interactions on my social media posts. I won’t be playing catch-up with myself, I won’t leave months and months of silence, I won’t need to be prodded by Breanna a week into the new month about what the Book Club theme is. I can be active, engaged, and relaxed in the moment.

Yes, it meant a HELL of a lot of work in December 2019, but I’ll be so much happier January-November of 2020, enough that I may be inspired to devote December 2020 to doing the same thing again.

Fingers crossed.

So what am I actually working on?

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll have seen my love of mermaids and my flood of posts relating to Siren Song. I have finished my first round of major edits and it is in the hands of my betas. I’ll need to make their edits, polish again, send it to my editor, implement her edits, compile the illustrations, format, and publish.

I’m aiming for a publication date sometime in May, during MerMay.

Watch this space for information regarding preorder and publication updates.

In addition, I have a number of inter-novel novellas and short stories set to be released here on my website to tide you over until the novel comes out.

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What about you? What is your One Word?

If you have been around here on my blog for a while, you’ll know that I published my two fairy tale retelling novels almost a year ago, exclusively for Kindle. I had a bunch of -I think- rational reasons for not wanting to publish in hardcopy, but the people kept asking. So here’s the breakdown of the pros and cons for digital versus paper books.

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Hey there, Misfits! It has been some time since I penned a blog post. Mostly, I’ve been super busy, I’ve been travelling, I’ve been celebrating my birthday, and also trying to overcome some challenges in my personal life. And also because secretly, I really hate blogging.

But anyway, enough moaning. I’m here this morning to talk about an increasingly controversial cause near and dear to my heart: National Novel Writing Month, or as we call it, NaNoWriMo. Continue reading

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