writing without words… not as a deep as it sounds

I’m on the homestretch. The opus of my twenties is nearing completion. Yes, I realize that I am now thirty, but I’ve been working on this project more or less since I was twenty-five. I have about 100 manuscript pages left in my LAST PASS and shit is getting real.

barney - this is totally going in my blog

It’s been hard to focus on anything else. I’ve only polished other drafts, began and abandoned a dozen other books, and submitted existing works for publication (including this shameless plug about a piece coming out in an anthology soon – details to come!).

adam scott celebratory wink

Where does this leave me mentally? I can’t really describe it.

You can't handle this

Really. I can’t. All my words are dried up and my brain is dead. I took a nap about three hours before my bedtime. That’s the state of the union here. The republic still stands, but its knees are shaky.

Cersei more wine

I desperately want to describe what this literary journey has been like, but I just don’t think I have it in me right now. I ate chocolate cake for dinner.

tl dr

So I raided the gif folder on our desktop. After a certain point (in the day; in the twenty-first century), gifs will become the only mode of self-expression. Thus, I promise, promise, promise this will the last time I use a gif to illustrate a point on this blog.

grinch smile

I take that back. I don’t want to make that promise. I fucking love gifs.

Ginsberg - get out while you can

So, yeah. Sorry. Not sorry.



varys head bonk

This is kinda how the whole five-year-long writing process went. More or less. On a bright and dismal July morning in 2009 the idea struck.


Pirates, I thought, are awesome. But what if they were IN SPACE.


It might just have been crazy enough to work. (Probably not, but I was hungover.)


The brainstorming part of the creative process began.

professional magician do not attempt

And continued…

professional magician do not attempt 2

Seriously. I spent 22 STRAIGHT HOURS making notes that first sweet day. I had a sunburn on half of my body and a crick in the neck like a horrible acupuncture session gone wrong. I went through two pens and a whole mechanical pencil.


Eventually – about a year later – emboldened by the creative methodology I’d honed in film school, I sat down at the computer and started writing.

Tom Hanks enjoys the internet

And it went really well for a while. I scribbled in notebooks and typed away like a mad man trapped in an endless comments section loop. I gave up on socialization; gave up on showering; basically, gave up on real life.

Bill Nye screaming head through space

After about a year of that, I finished my first draft. Excited by the idea of space pirates, Dr. Roommate wanted to read it. I was terrified.

Worf peek

She said she loved it.

karl pilkington bullshit

She threw the manuscript across the room when I killed off one of the characters, and even started shipping another character with Sandor Clegane.

betty can't believe your shit

But she had notes. And I had not quite been happy with that draft. It’s easy to lose perspective of the objective qualities of one’s own work. That is why notes from others always help; they at least open you up to new opinions. Anyway. Revisions began.

Joffrey hates booksAnd went on.

dog typing

And on.

Fozzie fuck

And on.


Holy hell. It was really painful guys.

barney robin

I’m finally ended up with a draft I was happy enough with. In retrospect that happiness was a lie. At some point earlier in this journey, the masochistic tendencies wore off and I just wanted it to be over. There were problems with the manuscript, but it was easier to ignore them than fix them. Especially when you simply don’t know HOW to fix them.

kevin spacey smile

It is much less emotionally damaging to buy the lie you tell yourself! Hell, it was easy to believe! An agent even expressed interest!

davidmitchellBut she told me that – at 160,000 words – I had a lot of cutting to do. I had to get down to the thick of the plot.


But then I never heard from the agent again.

life is pointless and nothing matters

So nothing happened for a while. Because that’s sort of the way things go.

cat with butterfly on paw

In the meantime, I wrote a whole other novel. I got married. I moved to England. I moved back. I convinced myself pirates in space was stupid and terrible and a waste of four years of my life.

m gustave runs away

Eventually, in a fit of navel-gazing, I decided to read my elegant tale over again, expecting to find a hideous fragment of a past life: an artifact I could hold up as an example of how much better a writer I’d become since way back when.


But no. It was actually… pretty good. The distance from it gave me more of an objective perspective.

Mad Men swag team

Perhaps I was a genius after all!

Aasif Mandvi condescending nod

But there were still issues. Something was off with the book but I couldn’t quite say what.

suspicious lucille bluth

In all that time while I thought I was running away, I was learning to trust myself. I learned that art takes work. I learned that this book could be something special but it wouldn’t happen by accident. I needed to tell the story I wanted to read. Eyes open, I was finally able to discover the problem at the root of the book. It was the voice.


This meant, of course, going right back to the root and blowing it all up.


I could make this good – I could make this work – but it would mean essentially rewriting the whole thing.


There were a lot of tough questions I would have to ask myself.

Dean doesn't get it

How convincing are my characters?


And their conflicts?

girl fights

Do they develop and change over time, as shaped by their experiences? demon!dean

What about subtext?

Wayne Lenin Party On

And emotion?

Captain America right in the feels

Are the shocking moments actually shocking?

Daily Show spit take

The humour actually humourous?

Firefly LMAO

As it stood, everything was… adequate.

Steve McQueen Oscar clap

So as I readied myself for this undertaking, suddenly overwhelmed and panicking, Husband decided he would like to read it. I love him and trust his judgment; he’s a harsh critic and a terrible liar. What’s the worst that could happen?

Troy having a bad time

So he finishes the book and delivers his verdict: it’s not long enough. Simple as. (Which makes me frustrated with the old advice from the agent, she of word counts and plot supremacy.)

carrie - fuck this shit

I had been so worried about plot but Husband just wanted to spend more time with the characters. He wanted more backstory.

Castiel - sorry

So there it was – no more revisions – just more writing.

Sleepy worker bunny

Which is always the fun part.


No really. It is. I promise.

Ron Swanson throwing out computer

And he was right. He was SO right. At LAST the book works! Finally it is something I truly love. It’s the characters people want to spend time with; it’s their fate the reader sticks around for. I should have learned this lesson from Dr. Roommate, but I just hadn’t yet learned to trust myself back then.

Sally Draper sees the Beatles

So I’ve printed it out and am currently going through this last draft with a thick, red pen.


At the end of the day, it’s my story, not an agent’s. At the end of it all, I don’t care how long it is; I just care how much I enjoy reading it.    payday

It would be nice if something came of it, but that no longer feels essential. There’s no point in shooting for the moon when you can curl up with a good book.

dog fail

Author: Ashleigh Kay

I divide my time between a variety of poverty-inducing ventures: writing for fun and writing for torture; watching far too many movies and reading far too few books. I have lived previous incarnations as bookseller, bureaucrat, filmmaker, zinester, student, and wayward traveller. I studied Film at Langara after seven years at Simon Fraser entrenched in English, Archaeology and about every other Liberal Arts and social science topic you can imagine. I am very good at Trivial Pursuit. I am related to Dr. Samuel Johnson, writer of the first English dictionary, which explains my perfect spelling and penchant for black cats. I once lived in a house in the South Hill neighbourhood of Vancouver with six people, four cats, one goldfish, and a vegetable garden for a front yard. We called it The Commune. It was where I lived with my husband before he was Husband, before he was Fiance, before he was Boyfriend, back when he was just Boy Roommate. Life was a sitcom and we were the “will they/won’t they.” We did. Once we ran away to England because we like having adventures. But we didn’t like it that much, so we came home again. I have the personality of a superhero’s alter-ego. Only I don’t fight crime. At least not yet. I am currently obsessing over romantic comedies and hosting murder mystery dinner parties (online these days, of course!).

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