Juice on the Loose! What’s Your Writing Fuel?

Writing Fuel Title

You wouldn’t know it to look  at me, but there was a time when I was one of the fastest runners in my school. Not over distance, no no no. I could barely sustain myself for longer than about 110 metres. BUT, during that 100m I was almost unbeatable.

I can still sprint these days, but nowhere near the level I achieved back then. The reason for my current dallying?


See back then I had something that made me faster. No, I’m not just talking about a longer leg to back ratio than now. That’s Science. I’m talking about desire.

For me, running was one of the few ways I could be a winner. It was one forum where I was able to outclass the sporty kids.

That passion, that energy, is what kept me ahead.

Well, until I discovered girls and cigarettes. Then it was more about staying cool. And cool kids don’t run, they saunter and jive.

But it got me thinking; what fuels my writing? Sleepless nights fighting fantasy battles in my head I need to get onto the page? A constant re-arranging of the 26 letters of the English alphabet to try and crack a code in life? Dementia?

Writing, like anything, needs some ammunition to get going. From the physical to the existential, it all starts somewhere.

So let’s kick off by looking at what we put in, or do to, our bodies, and see the creative fuel for some of history’s most famous authors.


What’s in your refinery?



Mud. Joe. The ol’ brown mistress. Whatever you might call it, coffee is pretty much synonymous with writing. I’m sure many of us put a pot or ten on and just see how far we can get before we slip into psychosis and begin to babble and rant into the computer screen until we are repeatedly hitting the space bar and saying ‘come on, come on’.


Coffee has all the right properties for a budding writer; energy, reputation, ease of use and wide availability. Plus, without it, where else would you turn up with your laptop and announce to the world you’re a cool, alternative writer than in a coffee shop?

Twist: Some may prefer tea. I know there are times when tea is better, such as when you’re scribbling at 11pm and don’t fancy dropping into the caffeine valley when you need to be up at 7am. However, despite popular belief, tea often contains more caffeine. Be warned!

Personal favourite: Double espresso with one brown sugar lump. For the tea drinker, an iced green tea to refresh yourself.


“I have no idea what I’m doing. I just wrote ‘I’m a writer’ twenty times. Is that OK?”



Hemingway loved a drink to such an extent they named one after him. The Hemingway Daquiri is delicious, though I’m not sure how much writing you’ll get done after a couple.

He wasn’t the only one though. Raymond Chandler had a pretty well documented alcohol abuse problem, and Jack Kerouac’s death was a result of cirrhosis of the liver caused by a lifetime of drinking.

Let’s not get down though. Many writers drank. Faulkner, Poe, Thompson, Capote, Thomas, Parker, Bukowski… to name but a few.

I can’t say whether the booze is the root of the creativity, or a symptom of it. But I do know that alcohol, like anything, is best enjoyed in moderation. Then again, I’m no literary hero…


“I’m so hungover from all this writing”



As with any creative area, or any form of artistic expression, writing has a tendency to be linked with drugs from time to time. This isn’t a recent phenomenon either. Baudelaire often wrote under the influence of hash.

But he wasn’t alone. It’s widely known that Stephen King spent the best part of the eighties churning out record rates of fiction while popping uppers and booger sugar (spot the cocaine inspired characters in his most famous stories – you will).

There’s also the aforementioned Hunter S. Thompson, getting Fear and Loathing in a number of exciting situations. Or Philip K. Dick using his substance abuse issues to inspire a vast back catalogue of sci-fi romps that range in quality from Saturday Writing Club to mesmerising.

Let’s not forget Ken Kesey and his acid, Robert Louis Stevenson bashing out Jekyl and Hyde in about six coke-fuelled days, or Huxley and his mescaline inspired Doors of Perception.

Check out: A Scanner Darkly by  Phillip K. Dick or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe


Lance Armstrong sold a lot of books…



Sex sells. It’s one of the most basic of human desires, and one of the most basic human impulses. Some writers (I’m looking at you Bukowski) saw sex as the call to arms to try and make relations with every member of the opposite sex. I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that a lot of the previously mentioned alcoholics and drug abusers also happen to be serial womanisers too.

Sex also happens to be the only thing on this list older than the written word.

Norman Mailer didn’t always write about his sexual activity, but it was certainly running in the background behind his writing. And it should come as no surprise that Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was a notorious womaniser.

I digress.

There were some men for whom sex became the ultimate inspiration, not just objectified, but idolised and celebrated. Henry Miller broke down some stigma around sex in literature with his novel Tropic of Cancer.

But it wasn’t all men. Anaïs Nin is one of the most famous erotic writers of the last hundred years, and her work will live on as the foundation for the erotic writing movement.


… so you can thank her for stuff like this



Baudelaire is credited with coining the term flâneur. Essentially, it’s someone who enjoys wandering a city or other place purely for the pleasure of walking and taking in the sights and smells around you. Will Self is a modern proponent of it, and he often writes about it too.

For some, exercise was a more a part of the fabric of their writing routine. In a letter to his wife from 1965, Kurt Vonnegut said “I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not” (seen here at Brainpickings.org). The idea being that between bouts of writing, it was important to keep yourself fresh, but also challenged, so as to keep the mind focused.

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“Writing is tiring stuff!”


So, what’s yours? Maybe it’s on the list, maybe it’s not. I’d love to hear what gets your writing going.

Part two explores the more mental side of writing fuel.


Useful Links for further reading:

www.toptenz.net article Top 10 Substance Addled Writers

listverse.com article Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers

Huffington Post article Women Are Honestly writing About Sex: It’s About time


Special thanks to Chaiwat, farconville, imagerymajestic, stockimages and supakitmod @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016


New Year, No Fear!

logo taxi

Happy New Year! 新年快樂! Feliz año nuevo!

Let’s all just take some time to reflect on 2015. It had its share of drama. Good things came and went. Terror and division became all too common in the headlines. Hopefully, yours was one to cherish, but if it was a bad year, at least it is over now. These barriers in our mind invisible yet so important, of the moving from one calendar to the next, can be an important psychological step. Move from the old into the new. Close the door on 2015, and try to take the lessons it offered with you on your journey into fresh moments.

Now we turn the page and begin a new chapter. What wonders does this coming term hold in store? Perhaps you are lucky to already have things to look forward to; a wedding, a holiday, a graduation, or a baby. Perhaps what’s coming up for you doesn’t fill such generic milestones, but slots into an alternative bucket list; first marathon, first solo skydive, getting your PADI, or climbing Everest.

Hell, it might just be you’ve decided to start eating crinkle cut instead of regular crisps with your Netflix sessions! It all counts!

A new year is a great opportunity to turn your gaze to new horizons. I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. With so many others basking in the positivity of a new beginning, the energy is all around you. Tap into it and exploit it for yourself. This is your time!

So for those of you still without an idea of what you might want to do over the coming year, here are some goals you may want to use. Or adapt. Or ignore. This is your year. Go out there and own it!


“Come here!”

Learn about a new topic

The internet is bloody marvellous. Not only does it offer 24/7 access to news, games, and other people, but it also connects you with the wealth of human knowledge, and the shared library of wisdom that humanity has assembled in the last 8,000 years.

Thanks to websites like coursera and Khan Academy, you can now sign up online for free learning!

Ok, I’ll let my inner nerd quieten down for a bit. But truly, this is something wonderful that should be celebrated and enjoyed.

You can find sites for everything, from guitar lessons to 6th grade maths, traditional Chinese to coding. Go ahead, Google it.

See this article from Observer Innovation for links to a variety of different courses to get you started.

For those of you interested in learning a new language, check out the Itchy Quill guide to the best sites and apps for language learning here.



“Boom. Knowledge”

Learn a new skill

But life is not all about sitting in front of a computer now, is it? Some of us are handsy people, veritable artisans who respond much better to the kinaesthetic pleasure of holding and handling, not merely studying.

For those, there are plenty of things to try your hand at. Jewellery making, woodcraft, pottery, baking, fencing, knitting, painting, driving… the list goes on.

Most colleges run night schools that offer affordable courses in a whole range of vocational activities. There are also websites like meetup.com which offer you a chance to find similar minded people and talk about/establish events about your chosen area.

What’s stopping you?


David Castillo Dominici

You know, apart from the obvious stuff like commitments and generally being an adult

Start a new hobby

Or maybe you just want a new way to relax? You could look into a new sport, or another way of channelling your competitive streak.

How about another income stream? I’ve got good friends who make a healthy income from eBay. They trawl the charity shops and boot sales looking for gems. With the power of a smart phone in your hands, you’re seconds away from a valuation, and an idea of whether you can make money from something.

Of course, there are the classic hobbies such as stamp collecting and fishing out there to be tried too.

For more ideas, check out this list on the Art of Manliness.com – though these don’t have to be hobbies for men. They’re not gender specific, after all…


Bill Longshaw

… unlike some things

Pay it forward

Do something for someone else, like help out a friend or neighbour. Maybe someone is moving house, or they need a hand with their kid? It doesn’t have to be a massive task, but it’s always nice to help out someone without expecting something in return. You could make their day!

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, what about volunteering? Here in Taipei, it’s common for foreigners who cannot get pets in their own apartments to help out at local dog shelters by walking dogs after work. There are a lot of refugees kicking around in Europe at the moment, and I’m sure you can imagine that local authorities are swamped. Why not see if you can help out? Or start collecting old clothes together to be sent to displaced peoples.

Or, you know, just help old ladies across the road or up the stairs with their shopping…


graur razvan ionut

“Do I look like I need your help young man?”

Catch up with old friends or distant family

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of time. I’ve been out in SE Asia now for over two years, and I’m not the best person at keeping in contact. Out of sight, out of mind.

But I know that for some, it really means a lot if you reach out to them. It lets them know you haven’t forgotten about them, and that you are thinking of them.

So call up grandma, or send an email to Judith and the kids, or just write a letter to your mate Shaggy Dave.

Who knows, you might be just the person they need right now…


Stuart Miles

“Come on dad, it shouldn’t take 15 years to get a pack of cigarettes”

Visit a new country

Bit of a no brainer this, but with the summer still a healthy half a year away, it can feel a little dull sat there in a cold apartment watching the mould climb up your walls. What better potion for your ills than warmer thoughts of a sunnier summer, and the chance to hop abroad?

Kamchatka? the ‘Stans? Timbuktu? Tuvalu?

Throw a dart at a map, and book your ticket now before the summer rush. Then you’ll know you’ve got a solid six months of saving time to scrape together some cash, some research, and all the bravery you’ll need to take the plunge into a new adventure.

Hell, I’m doing it myself right now…




Set yourself goals, and challenge yourself

I managed to read 33 books last year. For me, that was decent. I’m no Good Will Hunting, I need a bit of time to get through a book (though I love reading). This year, I wanted to read more. So, I set a target for 35 books. Nice enough, I thought. “Where’s the challenge in that?” said a friend. “If you really want to challenge yourself, put 40.”

So I did.

Lord knows how I’ll find the time. 33 was a struggle. But having that target, that goal, gives me something to drive for. If I fall short, I’ll still have probably done better. But if I achieve it, well, I’ll have done something awesome.

And this mentality applies to anything. Pick a local marathon, sign up, then train your nuts off to be ready for it. Even if you end up crawling over the finish line, the positive effects of trying to prepare and then actually doing it will be myriad.

What challenge will you set?



“Fightin’. This year, I’ll do gooder at fightin’… and stares”

Cut out the negativity

Some people suck the life out of us, and similarly so do some situations and environments. Make this year the year you finally put some distance between yourself and those things that drag you down.

Have you got a negative habit perhaps, such as smoking, eating unhealthily or drinking more booze than a ship of sailors? Make this the year you take steps to make your life that little bit better.

I quit smoking at the end of 2014, and I’ve now gone a full year; no patches, no slips, no consequences. I’m just a year healthier than I was as a smoker.

Believe in yourself, and start thinking about what you can do.


Make this the year you follow your dreams

You may have had something you’ve been putting off for ages. I did. Mine was a novel (and now it’s nearly done!)

No more excuses, let this be the year. You’ll make time for it if you really want it! And you want it, don’t you? Of course you do!

Go out and get it!

see god

Special thanks to Ambro, Bill Longshaw, David Castillo Dominici, graur razvan ionut, imagerymajestic, nenetus, satit_srihin, stockimages & Stuart Miles @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

Orphan; The Great Hero Archetype

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I’ve always loved my heroes. Batman. Luke Skywalker. Conan. James Bond. These guys were my idols, my role models. I looked up to them like they were my big brothers, and tried desperately as a child to emulate them.

They seemed attainable, as if somehow my circumstances were part of a grand design that would lead me towards their fate. The reason for my thoughts? They were orphans, just like me. Only orphans were special enough to be heroes. And I was an orphan. Vis a vie, I’d be a hero. Well… not quite…

So, orphans. Yeah, those guys. Well, I should say us guys I guess. We all know the definition; someone who has lost their parents. I don’t mean lost like “Sheila, I’ve lost my car keys.” I mean, well, you get the point. For one reason or another, an orphan has no mother or father.

And it’s a really common part of storytelling. In fact, it’s such a common part of storytelling that it should be considered an archetype; a regular part of the story telling realm since the time of the ancients. Throughout the history of stories, from spoken to written, orphans raise their sad little faces and lead a story from beginning to end.

From the foundlings of Tom Jones and A Winter’s Tale to the old wives tales of children stolen away by fairies and goblins, orphans are woven deep into the fabric of storytelling.

But why so?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take an IQ stroll into the world of the orphan as a hero archetype…



“Here we go!”


They’re Convenient

Now now, I am not for a second saying that writers are so callous that they drop the emotional and complex elements of an orphan character into the story just because it is convenient but… wait, what was my point again?

Writing the complicated dynamics of family can be long winded and boring, but missing it out can leave plot holes that gape like a Sarlacc at the dentist.

However, a hero with little or no family removes this concern completely! Compare the two scenes:

John, enraged by his mothers tenacious demands for cleanliness, was desperate to abandon the stale and suffocating existence of 16 Albert Road. He pushed past his father and brother, and ran up to his room. Tears were streaming. Life was hard.


John knew it was him against the world. If he didn’t tidy his room, nobody would. This thought made him sad, but he pushed the sadness deep inside himself and puffed out his chest. He was alone in this world, but he could do whatever he wanted. “Screw tidying,” he thought (probably).

Ok, so these are hardly the best examples, but they make a point. If your hero has a family, that potentially creates extra characters you’ll need to consider writing in to your story, and this can complicate things when you try to justify things like motive, history, character, personality and desire.

Look at Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings. Do you think if he had had parents they would have let him wander off on a deadly journey into the land of Mordor to destroy a ring pent on obliterating his way of life? It would have meant Tolkien having to write in emotional goodbyes, worries, drama and tears that could have taken away from the story. It was just easier, in hindsight, to have his character be an orphan (not that Tolkien ever cared about keeping things snappy; 20 page elf song anyone?)

Are orphan characters just less complicated?


Serge Bertasius Photography

“That’s easy for you to say”


They’re Underdogs

Indeed, we are  drawn to help those we feel are at a disadvantage. I am reluctant to call this human nature (as I definitely know a healthy crop of humans who care very little about their fellow earthlings), but I think it is a common enough trait through people that if you can harness this emotional response, you can make your character much more likeable. Readers, I believe, will warm to them much quicker.

As we saw in the above examples, the first one made the character seem a little spoilt, but the second one made the character seem much more in need of our sympathy and help. This of course is as much about the way a writer chooses to write a character, but I also think that ‘the orphan’ has potential to frame things much more sympathetically in their favour when utilised correctly.

Think about Annie. We are all familiar with this orphan’s story leading from a hard knock life into the much safer and better world of tomorrow. Why do we side with her? Well, she’s a young girl, like anybody else. She dreams of having a better life, and of escaping the ‘small town’ (orphanage) where she lives as a young lady. Yet, though she has all these and other similar desires as your average eleven year old, she is also an orphan. Life will be even harder for her than it is for other girls her age.

You see a part of yourself in this character, but you also see that they (potentially) don’t have the same advantages you might have, and this makes you side with them and want them to succeed against the odds, like a puppy in an avalanche…



or a grandpa in a …boxing match?


And As a Result, They Can Bend the Rules to Get Things Done

Yeah, so sometimes a hero needs to be a little naughty, and maybe do things that fall outside of ‘accepted practice’. You cannot expect your classic ‘pure’ heroes to do this, as to behave in any way that falls outside of the realms of fair or just would be to betray their righteousness, and undermine their authority and authenticity as ‘pure’ characters.

In times like this, send in the orphan.

Tom Sawyer, like most boys his age, likes to get into a bit of trouble. He’s mischievous, loves a tall tale, and prides himself on his confidence and boisterous behaviour. We like him, and we let him get away with a lot of behaviour that is unsavoury. Maybe this is because we know, somewhere in our minds, that an orphan doesn’t have anyone there to guide them emotionally, or behaviourally. He must find his way in the world alone. He impresses us because even without a parent to lend him moral guidance, he is still able to keep his heart in the right place, and ultimately act as a leader amongst his school friends.

The same goes for Harry Potter. He sometimes breaks rules and does things that are naughty or wrong, but ultimately he is a good boy who is just trying to find out who he is, and avenge the death of his parents (specifically his mother, the ultimate Oedipal vendetta). The writer is able to have him get into trouble and win dirty fights, because the reader will justify his behaviour by allowing him a little more of a learning curve.



“Leave him alone mate, he’s an orphan”


It’s a Ready Made Story

Yes, it is. Really. If you find yourself struggling for inspiration, you could do a lot worse than writing an orphan story.

The plot is kind of already there; the search for parents/the truth/identity. That third part, the ‘who am I?’ element of being an orphan, is something writers have played with a lot.

As changingminds.org pus it so perfectly:

“The Orphan, fearing exploitation, seeks to regain the comfort of the womb and neonatal safety in the arms of loving parents. To fulfil their quest they must go through the agonies of the developmental stages they have missed.”

Take Batman from the recent relaunch of the franchise starring Christian Bale, as an example.

He must learn to ‘grow up’ out of his immature playboy ways and become an adult. This leads him into the pitfalls of wanting to protect everyone, but he also faces some tough decisions that force him to become a ‘parent’ of the people of Gotham.

Ultimately, his story stemmed from a desire to right the wrongs of his parents’ death. He nearly fell into the trappings of ‘playing the victim ‘but was able to pull himself out using his own personal strength, and realised the right thing to do (the ultimate sign of maturity being the difficult decision done for the greater good).

We’ve also got Daenerys Targaryen from the Game of Thrones TV show and SOIaF books. When we first meet her at the start of the stories she is but a young lady who follows the guidance of her male ‘protectors’ (her brother Viserys, and the elegant Illyrio), but eventually out grows them and makes her way to firstly discovering her sexuality (her puberty) with Khal Drogo initially but then others, before moving into her own teenage years of rebellion and ideas of change (battles and freeing slaves – all with a taste for bloodshed) before reaching maturity and becoming the guardian of her own people.

She is trying to realise her destiny as a Queen, because she knows from stories she hears as she grows that she comes from royal blood, and somehow by reclaiming that throne in the name of her family, she will somehow reconnect with the parents and by extension the identity, she has lost.



Unfortunately we don’t have the budget for HBO photos. So, instead of the Queen of Dragons, we give you… the Prince of Cow nosed Tadpole Lizards (with wings)!


They’re Mysterious

What’s more mysterious than hiding the history of a character? Without knowing the origin of someone, we are without a key tool in trying to figure out that person’s motivations. It also creates an element of intrigue, which drives our reading as we want to find out answers to the many questions we may have.

Take Superman for example. His origins were not really touched on in his early comics until #53. Even then, the full extent of his initial story is not made clear until #146 (scifi.atackexchange.com). The reason? It’s just easier to explain a character’s story later on and deal with the s**t kicking first. Superman being an orphan removes a whole myriad of complications from his story, but the mystery of his past, at least initially, creates more hype, and leaves us asking more questions. We find out information in dribs and drabs, and piecing together this enigma becomes a garnish to the meat of the plot.





Life Imitates Art (And Vice Versa)

What do J. R. R. Tolkien, Joseph Conrad, Louis Armstrong, Malcolm X and Babe Ruth all have in common? That’s right, they’re all orphans.

In fact, google ‘famous orphans’ and you’ll be surprised how many orphans there have been in the world who’ve made it into the big time.

So already we can see, well established in the real world, is this idea of rags to riches, or of orphans being able to achieve great success even while being at the seeming disadvantage of having no parents.

There is no shortage of writers in this realm. Andy McNab was found on the steps of a hospital as a baby. Wordsworth was orphaned aged 12, Tolstoy aged 9 and Edgar Allen Poe aged 2.

So, potentially we may see writers using orphans just because it’s all they know.

Hell, I do this too. As I don’t really know what a ‘normal’ family would look like, I just write what I do know; the life of an orphan. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve not grown up in some horrible orphanage, but I can harness the inner ‘orphan complex’ that drives a lot of previously mentioned orphan characters. As stated on charactertherapist.blogspot.tw they often desire:

  • to feel accepted
  • to feel safe (and make others feel safe)
  • to connect with others

These could reflect the desires of the writer too, and how that drive manifests in the characters and stories they choose to create. Afterall, we write what we know.


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“So I’ve got this idea right. It’s a story about a… a… doctor. And he likes… red. Yeah, red things. And he’s really handsome and cool and stuff, and everybody loves him”


Religion (Which Came First?)

Finally, we have our oldest examples; religious figures. There is no shortage of great prophets or leaders being abandoned at an early age. Take Moses for example, and how he washed up on a reed bed after being floated down a river.

The chances of such a thing actually happening are high enough that it’s plausible, and yet it somehow leads to this wonderful enigma. Like somehow, by being washed up in such a manner, we can see that person as more than just a being, like they are somehow extra special. By having no parents, they can give themselves wholly to god as a surrogate father or mother.

Muhammad, of the faith of Islam, would be another example. He was orphaned aged six.

Even St Nicholas, and by extension Santa Claus, was an orphan. His desire to give and to spread joy acting as a foil to his own memories of isolation, sadness, and not feeling familial warmth.


stockimages 2

“Ho Ho… Huh?”


In closing, there are many, many examples of orphans in literature and stories. From Mowgli to Tarzan, Wolverine to Princess Leia (or most of the characters from Star Wars, including Darth Vader and Han Solo for that matter), they are part of an archetype so entrenched that I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.

I leave it for you to think about. Let me know about your theories, or if you think I’m missing the point completely. Maybe you agree with some of what I’ve said, or think I’m just talking an absolute bucket of rubbish. I’d be interested to hear your ideas in the comments section below!

I’ll leave you with the biggest lesson I learned from all those orphan stories:



Disclaimer: I am not here to judge, condone, nor side with any of the above representations of orphans, or of tragedy. I am merely commenting on representations of these things in certain stories, and trying to decode why they exist, and how they are used, in a way that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. As I have said, I myself am an orphan, and I don’t look to be offended by the archetypes and stereotypes associated with orphandom. I have only ever seen them as positive, and as one of many tools in writing.

Special thanks to Ambro, artur84, holoholoholand, photostock, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages & vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Lesson From NaNoWriMo; Challenge is good. Fear is good too!

Wro Title

That’s it. The curtain falls on the last day of November, and with it comes the end of the great journey that is NaNoWriMo.

And some good news this end, as I managed to win! Wahoo! Finishing 88 words over the 50,000 target, a weighty tome of life, love and laughter (and rock n roll and travelling) awaits. Watch this space, it will be available to read after some editing and a bit of down time for the author.

When I started out 30 days ago, I had no idea how much I’d do, and how much I’d have to dig deep to get it done. 50,000 words seems like a pretty small amount (most stories are more like 60k+), especially when broken into daily chunks of about 1,660. But by the end of the first week, I already knew it was going to be a lot tougher than I anticipated.

Life has a habit of throwing things at you in bursts, and so it was for my November. I’ve been ducking and diving through my other commitments, and yet somehow I still managed to finish a novel. A god damn novel! It’s god awful, I’m not lying. But there’s something there. Something horribly unpolished and woefully rushed. But it’s there for me to look at and pat myself on the back for. It’s there to hold, to stare at, and to edit and re-edit.

Like any experience, it’s what you learn from the act of doing it, not just the feeling of it being done, that makes it special. And NaNoWriMo is no different.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to share the reasons why I found it so useful.



It’s nice to do something hard

Life isn’t easy. Then again, I’m not sure it is meant to be. Having something to focus on for the past thirty days has made me acutely aware of how much I can get done if I prioritize my time. I’ve not had to make huge sacrifices, and have missed out on little (I took a five day trip to Hong Kong and Macau in the middle of November), but I’ve managed to add to my out put for the month.

Could I do it every month? Woah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This was still hard work. But that was nice. I work hard all day in my job for someone else. It’s nice to work hard for myself when I get home too.


“Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’?”

I’ve broken through Writer’s Block

Multiple times in fact. There were a few days when I sat staring at the empty page and felt more than a little despondent that ideas were not forthcoming. Especially when, through discussions with other NaNoWriMos, I realized this isn’t the case for everyone.

Yet I managed to dig deep and find my own ways through these veritable Mines of Moria, and that was refreshing to know. I’m sure I’ll come up against a void of inspiration again in the future, but hopefully I can be buoyed and spurred on by the thought of knowing I’ve overcome this particular demon before.


“God dammit, not again.”

I wrote… a lot

Not just the finished product, but a lot of other things to get me going, such as using Copy Work as a way of warming up (see an explanation of what Copy Work is here). It gave me the chance to delve back into some of my favourite writers, before switching into my own work (and seeing how far off the benchmark of quality they have set I am).

Not only that, I saw for myself how easy it is to adjust your daily routine to fit in some writing. After all, if you don’t make time for your passions, you’re selling yourself short. You can fail at something you hate, so why not give failing at something you love a try?


Don’t ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done, or that you can’t be something

I fell into ‘the zone’

Writing everyday got me into a place where ideas, when they came, were coming thick and fast. From the past thirty days I’ve had enough bad ideas to keep me writing for the next decade, easy.

A few of those, with a little more thought and a little more focus, could grow into something. What, I don’t know, but something. I guess we’ll see, but it’s exciting, right?


Ahem, moving on

I conquered fears

Sometimes the fear of starting gets in the way, but I replaced this with a fear of not finishing. One stops you beginning, the other propels you forward. Manipulating your fear, or rather ‘re-imagining it’, is one way of taking back the mind-space and energy fear requires and utilising it in a positive and productive way.

Fear Harnessed

What did you learn from your November? If you didn’t get a chance to do NaNoWriMo, what do you think you might gain from it? Have you challenged yourself to do something recently and taken something away from the whole experience? I’d love to hear about it…

NaNo Stats

Special thanks to Ambro, fantasista, imagerymajestic & vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

NaNoWriMo Now; Tips for Success in November’s Novel Writing Month

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Ok guys, I know. It’s been too long.

Where have we been?

It’s been one of those months.

But, look around the corner. NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

“Hey there”

NaNoWri… What?!

Some of you know it, some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with this wonderful portmanteau, it stands for

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

It started out in the July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; a friendly challenge amongst 21 pals. By the following year, it had grown to be a (partially) international event, with its own website! It was during this second year that most of the current rules were formed, based largely on the editing experience of the founder, Chris Baty.

By the third year, those running the event had assumed it was going to draw a healthy 150 participants, when in reality around 5,000 showed up! You can read the account of events by one journalist, Kara Platoni of the East Bay Express, here.

After a bumpy year adjusting to increased site traffic and a new found popularity, the fourth year brought harmonious relief in the shape of a more automated and therefore swifter system ready to accommodate the ever increasing number of participants. Of course, that wouldn’t last for long…

Since then it has grown year on year into the mighty beast it is today; represented in nearly every part of the world, from Estonia to Australia, and Seattle to Beijing. It’s had its fair share of challenges, trials and tribulations, but the result is a wonderful annual event for the professional and amateur writer.

The journey from its humble beginnings is one worth a read if you have the time, and demonstrates the power of one man’s dream. See the story in the words of the founder here.


OK, but how does that help me?

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, it cannot be denied that an event such as this will:

  • help you focus your writing by forcing you to regularly sit down and knock out some wordthings
  • enable you to see from within what the writing process involves, both the euphoric and disastrous
  • give you a sense of achievement if you actually finish the damned thing

So what’s stopping you?

“You know, besides the obvious”

But I don’t have the time

Which is kind of the point. A lot of people say they’ve got a great novel inside them, but they just don’t have the time to knock one out. NaNoWriMo forces you to engage with your inner word beast, and wrestle the behemoth onto the page. Knowing you only have to keep it going for 30 days means you are much more likely to give it your all; if you really don’t like it, you can count down the days until it’s over. In the meantime, you’ll be writing and writing, and barely have a chance to think about anything else.

Consider how many stories were written in the early hours before work, or late at night after the kids had gone to sleep. So many authors have to juggle full time work, marriage, children and other commitments with their writing. NaNoWriMo is a chance to try out re-adjusting your scheduling, and also a chance to see what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it.

On that note, it doesn’t just have to be for writers. The challenge itself could be for anyone.

“Anyone, you say?”

Sounds great! How do I get started?

Let’s imagine the fundamental elements of a story:

  • An outline = A beginning, a middle, and an end, including the key event that sets up the journey, and the final destination the story is building towards (the climax)
  • Some characters = A hero and a villain (in the classic set up)
  • Setting = The Nile river? London? Palau? Basque Country? The Moon? Once you decide the what and who, start to think about the where
  • The other bits = These can come organically, or prepared, but what will really grab people’s interest into your story is the how (things are going to happen) and the why (should the reader care).
i.e. Make sure it doesn't suck

i.e. Make sure it doesn’t suck

Let’s do it

Grab a pen, sketch out some ideas, and run with it. The goal here isn’t to write the best story of all time, or even of your generation. It’s about finishing something and being able to say “I did it!”

Those who hit the target word count of around 50,000 words are known as ‘winners’, and there’s all kind of memorabilia you can get to symbolize your wonderful achievement, from t-shirts to mugs!

That aside, it’s the personal feeling of completion that rocks hardest. How cool would it be to say ‘I wrote a novel’!?

Visit the NaNoWriMo website today and take a look around. You can set up an account in minutes, find your local writing community, and make a go of it. And the best part is it’s all completely FREE OF CHARGE!!


Tips for Success

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Think about it in terms of daily goals of around 1666 words, not as one big daunting mountain of 50,000 words, to keep from becoming demotivated.
  • Write first thing when your will power is at it’s highest and your brain hasn’t been depleted by a day of work and life.
  • Don’t lost sight of where you want to end up. The story can take a million twists and turns, so long as it ends up at an ending that satisfies the questions that were raised on the way.
  • Try and have fun!


We at IQ will be taking part, and we’ll be updating our progress on this blog. If you are also taking part, let us know in the comments. Come along and join us on the journey!

Useful Links

The NaNoWriMo website

Writer’s-World writing tips

Writer’s Digest tips for writing a book in 30 days

The Storyist NaNoWriMo preparation help

Special thanks to Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, marin, stockimages and Stuart Miles,  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Intimigration; Herd Mentality and the Plight of Refugees

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Facebook; the bastion of modern social interaction. This morning I saw a message pop up in my news feed from a friend from my home town. He was ranting about immigrants in the UK, and how they shouldn’t be here. His post got 30 likes. The likes were from other people in my home town. How had I grown so far away from these people? They were voicing their opinions together like a choir of Sun and Daily Mail headlines, and awash with some outdated ideas of international obligation and expectations. After I thanked my lucky stars I escaped from such a narrow-minded fortress, I had to think. Where exactly did our paths diverge? And really, who’s right here? How can we really know? One of the wonderful things about the UK is you are born in a society where every opinion can be shared. We have that freedom. The world is a richer place for opinions from all corners, and I for one am happy that there are people who disagree with me.

I come from a small town. It has it’s problems, but overall it is a pretty affluent place. There are few people living there who are not white. Is this the reason for such rejection of immigration? I left there a long time ago and have since lived in cities that are much more liberal and open-minded. These cities are full of a fantastic array of cultures, merging into a patchwork of wonderment that enriches the lives of all the citizens. Is it the fear of the unknown that forces these rants from my former friends in small town England? Intimidated by immigration, are they rejecting it from personal experience, from media manipulation or from some primal defensiveness against ‘the other’? I would probably find more of their fears easier to understand if the campaign behind them wasn’t so flawed and, in some instances, racist. I’ve seen a fair amount of EDL posts doing the rounds over social media, with recent posters being people who only a few months ago were condemning UKIP and their anti-immigrant vitriol.

Let’s get something straight though. There is a big difference between a migrant and a refugee. Migrants have made a choice to leave their homeland in search of different opportunities abroad. these people can enrich an economy and make a country a more diverse and fulfilling place to live. These people are under no threat, and are merely trying to better themselves. Refugees, however, are fleeing persecution and danger based on their religion, culture, ideology or beliefs (amongst other reasons) and are desperately seeking assistance. These people are vulnerable and in need of help. How can we leave them all to themselves with no offer of help? Especially, as evidence may show, we may be partly culpable for some of the problems they face?

I’m just one person, with one set of opinions. I’m no more right or wrong than the next person. Yet I find it strange that there can be others who have such contrasting views to mine, when we are presented with exactly the same evidence. That said, I’m sure my ideas about immigration can be brushed off as naive and narrow-minded by people who believe different things to me. While we all call each other wrong, what is getting done to help the people that need it, no matter where they may be?

Nobody likes a scrounger, a dole thief or a lazy sponger. Immigrants are accused of heading to the UK to take dole money away from British citizens. Do people genuinely believe that all the immigrants are arriving to look for an easy life? They may be looking for an easier life, as in, to live in a country not at war, or to have a home that isn’t constantly raided by bandits.


If immigration in the UK feels a little out of control recently, that’s because it has reached unprecedented levels since 1997 due to the Labour government’s relaxation of key immigration laws, most notably between 2001-2011. That being said, a lot of this led to foreign workers bringing skills to key industries. It’s no coincidence that we have a lot of immigrants working as nurses. Having the NHS means we need cheaper labour to keep it running.

So how, friends, can you get so angry at immigrants coming here to try and build a better life and build a better country, when Starbucks is here and doesn’t pay it’s share of tax? If you want to hate an immigrant, start there! It’s an American business that is basically gaining an almost monopolous (this wasn’t a real word, but it is now) hold on its industry, and it’s doing it without putting back into the economy it is taking from. Or how about these wars we keep fighting? Is it a Polish nurse’s fault our economy is having a tough time, or is it probably more about a £1 trillion trident defence system?

But I digress. I am getting away from the crux of my point. I’m not here to wholly rally to the aid of immigrants on mass. I’d rather talk about those who have no choice. I wouldn’t get so angry at a Syrian refugee when I knew my country had just bombed the shit out of that country. Some will claim that ‘it’s not our problem to fix these countries and their problems’. Well, that may feel like an easy answer, but if we actively interact with that country’s stability, I would count that as making it our problem to deal with. Again, these are my definitions and not others. Who’s really right? Can anyone ever truly be?

Immigrants are every day people like you and me. Do you know who aren’t? The banks! OK, so I’m being a little hysterical. The banks are run by humans, not lizards or aliens. But, I ask you, do you see more of yourself in a poor immigrant who is trying to work hard for their money and support their family, or in a greedy banker who gambles people’s savings and lives in a separate, meta-world where poverty and war are nothing more than buzzwords on a list of things you don’t need to care about?

Put yourself in their shoes.

We are a spoilt country, one that doesn’t even realise how lucky it is! You popped out of a vagina in the UK and won the lottery in life. You haven’t faced war, destitution, famine; you’ve had Hollyoaks and X-Factor, Cornettos and page 3! Lucky, lucky you! But really, did you do anything to deserve this better life? Are you a better person than any of these immigrants? Is it your wonderful accent? Or your understanding of the complicated intricacies of British social interaction and politeness, or a smattering of knowledge about our mighty history of kings, queens and world war 2? Is it some belief that because your grandparents survived the threat of Fascism, you somehow earned this privilege?

Go ahead and call me one of them. I am a second generation immigrant. My mother is African. She’s South African mind, but her family still left that continent to escape economic hardships, and came to the UK seeking a better future. My granparents were Dutch/Welsh/I have no idea. I don’t really care. I was never one of those kids at school that claimed to be two tenths Arabic, a quarter Irish, a fifth Scottish, a sixteenth Inuit and three quarters English! I am just a white guy who grew up in Southern England. I have a British passport, my own teeth and a degree in a subject nobody should ever accrue £30,000 in debt while attaining. Yet I won the life lottery by popping out of some knickers on the British isles.

“Quick, gimme all your welfare and starbucks, nom nom nom!”

This whole ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thing needs to stop. These are people, just like us. Helping them will not ruin our country. Now is not the time to be selfish. You want more money in the economy? Go on austerity marches, occupy government offices and force the government to change its stance on letting big business get away with murder. Don’t throw stones at other little people and let the government rub its greedy hands together while it watches us in-fight and get nowhere.

I’m also biased because I am currently living as an immigrant in Asia. I work hard for my money, and I contribute to the economy with tax, bringing a needed skill to this country. There is some resentment here of foreign workers, and a feeling that the ‘old ways’ are being eroded by outside influences. I have seen first hand a watered down version of what it must be like for some immigrants in the UK. It’s easier for me because I’m an ‘expat’, so I’m not for a second trying to compare my experience with that of an immigrant fleeing a war zone to look for solace in the UK. I am no refugee. All I’m saying is I understand the feeling of being an outsider, of not being fluent in the local language, and of trying to fit in to a society that is completely different from the one I was raised in.

In this modern world of quick access to information and a global narrative on the problems in the world to do with inequality and the huge difference between the rich and the poor, I am shocked that I still know people who get physically sickened by immigrants coming to the UK for a better life. How can these people still be so ignorant to the reasons why these immigrants come here? The UK has systematically utilised and perpetuated suffering and poverty in various countries around the world for the best part of three centuries. It would be naive and short-sighted to believe that a country like ours could wage wars in these far flung countries and then not expect at least some of the civilians from these states coming to knock on our door for help. When you decimate someone’s homeland, you must, surely, expect them to need your help?

I am not trying to start a discussion. I’m actually sick to death of this whole topic. This was a culmination of listening to so many of the people I call friends ranting about immigrants, and me just wanting to stick my two cents out there. They say you should avoid writing a passion piece. It’s easy to lose perspective, and for your words to be coloured by your own experiences rather than reflecting a semblance of truth. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe I just don’t get it. Though so far, nobody has put anything remotely intelligible forward that has anything near the power to make me think differently. Until someone does, I’ll continue thinking as I do; we are humans, and so are the refugees and immigrants. What would you want for your family if you were the crying father on the Greek beach? What would you do if you were the dead Syrian boys father or mother? If the shoe was on the other foot, I feel we would all be acting the same way. And damn, wouldn’t it just completely suck if we got the same level of compassion as we are giving now.

Before I depart, allow me to finish with a quote:

*** drops mic ***

Useful websites:


UK Government Immigration Statistics

The People’s Assembly (Anti-Austerity)

Special thanks to artur84 and khunaspix @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Habitually Bitchin’; How Habits Can Change Your Life

habit logo

Ever wanted to try to find the time for something, but every day you’re forced to concede that ‘it’ll have to wait’? It could be anything; self-improvement, language learning, reading, exercising, or even gardening. Finding the time to shoe-horn in a new activity to an already busy day can sometimes be frustrating. But it’s not impossible. It’s about turning actions into habits.

The FreeDictionary.com states that a habit is “a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition”. Turning actions into habits removes the biggest restriction on productivity – procrastination – from having a say. You literally just move from action to action in a state of habitual bliss, never stopping to consider whether you want or need something. It merely happens.

I’m not here to talk about the tedious bad habits we all hide away in the darkness of our homes; the nose pickers, the toe-nail biters, the toilet-seat-leaver-uppers. I am instead talking about the benefit of habitual action.

Not the ones that'll kill you...

Not the ones that’ll kill you…

It’s Easy!

Think about how we do the stuff we do now. Do you actively make a choice to do everything that you do? Hopefully not. Most daily actions are done on autopilot. You think to yourself ‘brush your teeth’ and then BAM! there’s a toothbrush in your hand and your scrubbing away at your gnashers. It’s a habit you’ve been doing twice a day for practically your whole life. You don’t need to think about it any more. You just do it.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could hack your mind to think like this about other things that benefit you? You wake up, put a pot of coffee on, and sit down to do the days writing. Without any distractions of decisions needing to be made, you just know that the first three things you do every day are wake up, put on coffee, and sit down to write.

Not a writer? You can substitute any other action in there; practice the sitar, juggle, play chess, lion tame, do karate, morris dance… you decide. The difference is, by not thinking but merely doing, you remove the chance to change your mind or get distracted, and this helps you build a consistent platform of action on which to build upon. If it’s done every morning, it puts your habitual action into your ‘done tray’ before anything else has a chance to sap your energy or will power.


The Logistics

There are various ways to go about this, but my favourite so far comes from JamesClear.com. He’s a behavioural psychologist who writes about ways to adapt your daily life to fit your long term goals.

He puts the process into five easy steps:

  1. Start with a small habit – Write 100 words a day.
  2. Increase the habit in very small way – Add ten words a day every week
  3. As you build up, break habits into chunks – Write half the words before coffee, half after
  4. When you slip, get back on track quickly – Never miss two days in a row
  5. Be patient. Stick to a pace you sustain – Don’t expect too much of yourself

This format can be tweaked for nearly any activity. It’s all about keep the pace at a sustainable level, suited to your timetable and your level of progress.

For more information, the original blog post can be read here on JamesClear.com

The trick seems to be keeping the habit going as long as possible. The best advice I can give is make sure you commit to thirty days, and adjust your expectations on how this works out. If you can get through thirty days, it will be much closer to being a part of your routine, and you’ll have shown yourself a small landmark of what you can achieve.

It's nice to measure your achievements

Yours after 30 days (figuratively)

Stuck For Ideas?

So, what do you think might be a good habit to have? For some, merely taking thirty minutes every day to be mindful and centre themselves with some positive thought would be enough. Others feel they would benefit from regular exercise, or the posture enhancing wonderment of a morning’s yoga.

Some ideas:

  • Hobbies; sewing, carpentry, painting, practising an instrument
  • Keeping a journal
  • Reading
  • Writing Letters to Friends
  • Working Out
  • Meditation
  • Language Study
  • Research on Interests

If there is something you feel would improve your life, or a skill you want to make time to get better at, then habitual practice should be a must.

“Hey mum, dad. I’m a better person now. I have habits! No… good ones”

I started trying to form a habit of reading every day, and from that I pushed into regular practice with Chinese, regular exercise, regular writing and taking the time to keep a journal. A year ago, I didn’t do any of these things, and yet now my life is richer for all of them. There is far less wasted time in my day, and as I expect to have most of these done before lunch, it leaves me the chance to enjoy the rest of my day without the pressure or worry in the back of my mind that I still had things I need to do.

It’s freeing and empowering, and it costs nothing to do.

What will be your new habit?



For other ideas, this great post here from Scott H Young at LifeHack.Org has tons of ideas on tricks to make habits stick.

Special thanks to Feelart, gameanna, olovedog, scottchan and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015