May 2023: Goals, goals, goals!

I think my progress in May proves my theory that I made very little writing progress in April because I didn’t set a goal.

For May, I decided to focus on drafting and set a goal of 150 words a day on one of my two big WIPs. I managed this on all but three days of the month, and on many days, wrote a lot more. I think the record was 751 when I got onto a roll with a particular scene in Paradox.

I’m not sure what the total word count for the month is because I stopped keeping track around the tenth of the month, but that’s not really what I’m worried about. The point is slow but sure progress.

Towards the end of the month, I was starting to hit a wall with the goal, though I bought myself some time by switching up which WIP I was working on. It’s definitely time to take a break from dedicated drafting, though!

So, what about goals for June? I think I’ll try to work on the following:

  • Complete draft 2 of fantasy short story tentatively titled “A Deal’s A Deal”.
  • Brainstorm and begin drafting new short story on the theme “Passages and Portals” for Conflux 2023.
  • Reread what currently exists of Drosselmeier Industries #3 and try to work out where to go to next with it. It needs some poking.

And that’s it! I hope you’re smashing your goals, too! Until next time.

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April 2023: a bit of a lost month

Well, this month’s update will be short and sweet.

After three pretty successful writing months, it’s probably not that surprising that I hit a bit of a wall in April. I did beta read a short story for a friend and send her some feedback! That was a win!

But on the whole, I had a severe a lack of motivation to even open my various writing files.

I think my main problem there was that I didn’t articulate any goals at the beginning of the month, leaving myself floundering over the following weeks. Once I’ve finished this post, my goal for tonight is to read over the projects I’ve worked on this year and set some decisive goals for them.

Hopefully that will lead to some better outcomes for May! See you then!

March 2023: Ups and Downs

Before I get into the update, just a quick heads up: sometime during April, this website will default back to its old lettingoutthevoices.wordpress.com home. That’s because websites are expensive and right now I have other priorities. Plus, this site gets so little traffic I don’t think it will be a big problem. emilywrayburn.com will be back as soon!

March is always a bit of a funny month for me. The days are getting noticeably shorter but we’re still in daylight savings, and my body always gets confused about it. As a result, I tend to be tired and grumpy for a lot of this month.

As a result, my writing has been a bit all over the place. Last month, I noted three tasks that I could work on in March:

  • Draft 1 of Drosselmeier book three.
  • Edit the short story I finished in January.
  • Write a submission for Canberra REP’s new program, “The ‘Logues“.

I started both the editing and the Logues submission, though neither of those things are finished. To be honest, I’ve got a bit stuck on both of them.

The Logues has received a bunch of submissions (so many that they are advising they may have to make decisions about which pieces get performed), so that bodes well for it becoming an annual event. Part of me is considering making it a project for the rest of this year to draft and polish a couple of scripts and have them ready to go next year, as I think at this point, I’m freezing under the pressure of trying to have something ready in the next couple of weeks.

And the editing? That’s just good ol’ self-doubt getting in the way. I did talk it through a bit with a friend who was visiting a couple of weekends ago, and I think I know how to move forward with it. I just haven’t yet. You know how it is.

The most fun I’ve had this month is with a new WIP that I didn’t mean to start. The idea came to me when I was half asleep and I handwrote about 400 words before I went to bed. To be honest, I was surprised they were still good when I read over them the next morning.

It’s inspired by a time travel short story I wrote last year for a competition, but I’ve thrown in a romantic plot line as well. Making sure I have it all straight about what order the characters meet in (from both perspectives) is interesting, but I think I have it right. It’s very Doctor Who/River Song.

With daylight savings finishing up on Sunday, I’m hoping that will herald the return of early morning writing sessions for me. So hopefully in a month’s time, I’ll have a bit more of an update on my various projects.

Until then!

February 2023: Two fifths of a novel!

In my progress post at the end of January, I mentioned that I had finally figured out the ending to my YA romantic fantasy, Facing the Music.

After spending a bit of time reading over old notes and giving it thoughts, I finally took the plunge on February 4 and put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).

I made my daily goal 300 words, but I discovered that in these early stages of the story, there was a lot of material in the old drafts that could still be used with minimal adaptation. Some days, I did only manage to go through 300-500 words. There was one day where all I managed was 97.

But most of the time, I managed much more than that, resulting in just over 18,000 words in my new document over 25 days. My target for the finished manuscript is currently 50,000 so I’m roughly 2/5 of the way there.

Having said all that, I have been up and down with motivation to work on the story. I’m still feeling motivated at the moment but I am reaching the point where a lot of old material will be less reusable for various reasons, and I’ll have to be writing many more new words. It’s possible a break will be due before the next month is up.

Fortunately, I’ve got some options for other projects to work on:

  • Draft 1 of Drosselmeier book three.
  • Edit the short story I finished in January.
  • Write a submission for Canberra REP’s new program, “The ‘Logues“.

In fact, if I’m honest, taking a break from drafting and doing some editing does sound appealing. Don’t judge me, I like editing! 😂 But we’ll see how it goes.

How’s your March shaping up?

January 2023: Off to a good start!

Monthly updates, can I manage that? I seem to manage it on my review blog, so maybe I can manage it here as well.

Given that I was overseas until a week ago, I was generally planning for February to be when I got back into writing for the year.

But then on January 12, I had a breakthrough on a short story that I’ve had sitting around since 2020, and now I have a finished first draft!

And on January 29, I sat down and finally worked out an ending to my circus-y romantic fantasy, Facing the Music. I first started it in 2018 and worked on it fairly consistently for about two years. While the characters have stayed with me since then, determined to one day have their story told, I didn’t have an ending until now.

Definitely not a bad start to the year if I do say so myself! Looking forward to the year ahead with these projects to work on!

2023: Replenish

Water streaming from a stone fountain in close-up. on the black background to the left are the words Replenish 2023.

Happy 2023, everyone!

At the start of every year, I try to choose a word that will be my theme for the next twelve months. This year’s word is REPLENISH.

After the year that was, my main priority this year is to refill the creative well, as well as take more time for myself and my own goals, and allow less time for big commitments that I will struggle with down the track.

2022 started out quite well! I published Enchanted Sleep, the second book in the Drosselmeier Industries series, and I had my first short story accepted and published in an anthology. And I managed to finish the year with a short story set in the DI universe.

But in the meantime, I had to move house, and I was busy rehearsing for a show that ended up not going ahead due to COVID (what else?). I then went straight into rehearsals for another show, and spent three months struggling with the commitment, despite enjoying the music and the friendships formed through it. And once that was over, I only had three weeks break before I was off on a ten-week overseas trip!

So it worked out well that I had made the decision in late 2021 to not have any solid writing goals for 2022.

I am doing much the same in 2023. I want to finish the third Drosselmeier Industries book, and maybe write some short stories, but that’s all I’m saying in terms of goals. Once I am home from overseas, I’ll probably review my list of unfinished projects and see what takes my fancy.

I guess this post is mostly for my own benefit. I don’t know if anyone else is likely to read it. But it’s good to have something to look back on down the line.

If you are reading this, thanks! I hope you meet your goals this year!

Merry Christmas from Max, Clara and me.

Hello from Budapest, Hungary! I’m in about week six of a ten-week European tour, and at the moment I’m especially looking forward to seeing The Nutcracker at the Hungarian State Opera on Christmas Day.

Knowing that this was coming up, I was struck by the idea of Clara and Max going to see The Nutcracker. Admittedly, I don’t know if the ballet technically exists in their universe (weird that neither of them recognised the similarities with Operation: Sugarplum if it does) but we can ignore that. At the end of Operation: Sugarplum, Max mentions that the Veritas team would be working on a game set in a world of haunted dolls. So I took that and ran with it!

Before we get to the story, though, I wanted to let you know that both Drosselmeier Industries books are available outside of Amazon now! If you use Kobo, Apple Books, B&B, etc., then visit the Drosselmeier Industries page for all the links.

And now, on with the story!

~*~

“I still can’t believe that you have German grandparents and you have never seen The Nutcracker! Your nickname is ‘Nutcracker’, and you’ve never seen it. How is that possible?”

“I’ve never been to the ballet at all,” Max Drosselmeier admitted, once Clara allowed him to get a word in.

He wasn’t sure he was going to enjoy that night’s performance, either, but he wasn’t going to tell Clara that. She’d gone out of her way to get good seats and she hadn’t stopped talking about the upcoming theatre trip for at least a week. Max appreciated her enthusiasm to share this Christmas tradition with him.

They filed into the theatre, through doors with red velvet curtains pulled to either side. An usher directed them to their seats: six rows back, directly in the centre. The seats, also red and plush, were comfortable enough, though Max’s long legs were squashed in the confined space.

The lights dimmed, and the overture began. Clara took Max’s hand and grinned at him. The curtain rose to reveal a massive Christmas tree in one corner, decorated with glittering baubles and flickering candles. Max was transported back to Christmases with his paternal grandparents: the snow, the smell of chestnuts on the fire and the roast in the oven… the light-headedness after a glass or two of glühwein.

He settled down in his seat as dancers entered the stage. Maybe the ballet wouldn’t be so bad.

~*~

Clara glanced over at Max every few minutes. They’d only been dating a few weeks, and she had worried whether expensive tickets to The Nutcracker were a bit too much this early in the relationship.

Fortunately, Max seemed to be enjoying his first ballet experience. She’d even caught him tapping his toe along to the Nutcracker March, thanks to their clasped hands resting on his knee.

She slid her gaze to him once more as the Mouse King made his appearance in young Marie’s bedroom. Max leaned forward, his head tilted to one side. Clara had been waiting to see how he reacted to the similarities between the ballet and his virtual reality game, Operation: Sugarplum. He hadn’t looked at the program before the show started, but she couldn’t wait to see his face when he realised some of the characters shared the name Drosselmeier.

As the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King continued to confront one another, an electronic vibration ran up Clara’s arm. She looked down and saw the lit-up screen of Max’s smart watch.

“Max, turn it off,” she whispered, quickly puling her hand away from his. To her annoyance, he didn’t immediately lock the screen, but cupped his hand around it to block out as much light as possible while he read the incoming message.

“Max!” she hissed again. The person on Max’s other side turned to glare at him, but Max didn’t notice.

“I have to go,” he said, standing in his seat.

“What?”

“Emergency. I’ll explain later. I’m sorry.”

He started edging his way along the row towards the aisle, oblivious to the grumbling and stares from the people he was disrupting.

Clara fixed her gaze on the stage. The Nutcracker Prince was triumphant over the Mouse King, but she barely registered his victory. Her face burned, partly from embarrassment, but also from being ditched on a date she’d been looking forward to so much. Max had better have a good explanation later.

~*~

Max’s mind whirred on the short drive from the theatre to the Drosselmeier Industries offices. He knew he’d have to find a way to apologise to Clara later, but right now, he was preoccupied with the text he’d received from his uncle:

There’s a Faceless One in my office. Get here as soon as you can.

Max wasn’t sure why Josef was at work at close to 9pm on a Saturday, but was glad Josef, and not any of their other colleagues, had been there to find the Faceless One,. Few people knew about Max’s uncanny ability to remove characters from the company’s virtual reality system – the Veritas – and he preferred it that way.

The problem was, though, that Max had only worked on the Faceless Ones game in a limited capacity, and he hadn’t touched it at all in at least a month. Usually, Veritas characters survived a few days at most outside their games. How had this one lasted so long?

Max swiped his way into the building. The lift seemed to take an eternity to reach him on the ground floor and take him to Josef’s office on the third. Josef met him in the corridor.

“Where is it?” Max asked.

Josef eased the door open and nodded towards the far corner. “I trapped it under the bin. It didn’t seem to know what to do about that.”

As Max followed his uncle’s gaze, the upturned bin in the corner jiggled. The rim raised slightly off the ground before clattering back onto the tiles. The noise made Max flinch in the otherwise quiet office space. Swallowing, Max edged towards it. In theory, he knew what he would find but sometimes seeing the Veritas characters outside of their natural environment was unnerving. He suspected that would apply especially to creatures designed for a horror game.

He bent down and lifted the bin, putting it aside. The Faceless One’s body looked like a live porcelain doll, with segmented limbs and a wobbling head that was slightly too big. As with most characters removed from the Veritas, it was also pixelated around the edges. The fuzziness usually suggested that the character would soon disintegrate in the real world and return to its game automatically. Was the Faceless One simply disintegrating at a quarter of the speed of other characters?

It took a tottering step towards Max. Despite its lack of features, he still had the sense the little creature was staring at him as it turned its head slowly upwards.

“You are weird-looking, aren’t you?” Max told it. “Still, could have been worse. Could have been your dad.”

Inside the game, the Faceless Ones first appeared as children, growing up into grotesque, distorted versions of the toys they started out as. An adult would likely have been much harder to manage. At least, Max hoped a child was less likely to try to eat him. Or whatever it was faceless dolls did to people.

“Now, how have you lasted here so long?” he asked it.

It couldn’t answer him with words, but it seemed to understand the question. Or maybe it was just a coincidence that it chose that moment to throw itself towards Josef’s desk. It awkwardly pulled itself up the chair, inhibited by both its small stature and the way its fuzzy limbs kept passing straight through the chair when it tried to grab on.

It reached the desk and planted itself on the keyboard. The computer was open to Josef’s email inbox, but the Faceless One didn’t seem to be interested in the content. Instead, it basked in the glow coming from the screen.

As Max and Josef watched, the light grew brighter, but it also coalesced into a narrow beam between the screen and the Faceless One. The Faceless One thrummed with energy and its fuzzy edges started to solidify.

“Is it… feeding?” Max asked in a loud whisper. He didn’t want to disrupt whatever it was the Faceless One was doing.

“if it is,” Josef whispered back, “then it’s interesting it can do it from my computer and doesn’t need the Veritas.”

“This explains how it’s been here so long.”

“Can you get rid of it?”

“Sure can try. Does your bin have a lid? We need to get it upstairs somehow.”

Max retrieved the bin from the corner and Josef found the lid near his desk. They stood on opposite sides of the Faceless One and on Max’s count, grabbed it by the arms and forced it into the bin. Max grimaced as they pushed the lid in on top, despite knowing that the Faceless One couldn’t feel any pain as they squished it inside.

Together, they carried the bin up three floors in the lift to the area where the Veritas team worked. There were offices for designers, storyboarders, developers and animators. Max went straight to an office at the end of the corridor with seven computers arranged in a U-shape around the room.

“I used this one the last time I looked at Faceless Ones,” he told Josef, switching on a terminal. “The characters are only ever removed from the instance I play, not the game in its entirety. So hopefully opening the game on here will send it back.”

He drummed his fingers on the desk as he waited for the computer to start up. When it did, he sat down in front of it, and paused with his fingers over the keyboard as he considered where he needed to go. For all he knew, the files could have been moved or changed or removed from this computer all together. He’d have to hope for the best.

A metallic scraping noise alerted Max to the Faceless One trying to escape its confinement. Max leaned to his left and firmly pressed down on the bin lid as he opened the file he needed with the other hand.

He pulled on the headset and looked around the world he had entered. A toyshop, dimly lit. Shelves full of teddy bears, puppets, balls, cricket and baseball bats…. And behind the tall counter, rows of porcelain dolls on floating shelves.

The Faceless One could have come from there. There were no gaps on the shelf, but Max could slip it in somewhere and let the game sort itself out.

Or more likely…

With a few strokes of the keyboard, Max manoeuvred into the workroom behind the counter. Baskets of doll limbs lined the walls. Two dark corridors led off to other parts of the workshop, but Max avoided those. He was on edge enough without an oversize doll coming for him in the dark.

Instead, he made his way to a worktable in the centre of the room. There were tools laying on it: wire cutters, a chisel and a pair of pliers. A tin full of lengths of thin wire sat across from them. And between them all were four leather restraints, spaced exactly where a small Faceless One’s wrists and ankles would be.

This was the place.

Satisfied that he knew where he needed to return the Faceless One, Max removed his headset. Now he needed to find the files associated with that scene and code the Faceless One back in. As he’d once said to Clara, he could move quickly to write over a game when he had to, but he didn’t love the idea of doing it in a game that wasn’t his.

Max spent the next hour trawling through the development files. Josef disappeared and reappeared with a flask of tea, which he left by Max’s side, then disappeared back to his office.

Max finally found the relevant scene and arranged the view so he was looking at the Toymaker’s worktable from above. He leaned down again and removed the lid of the bin. He didn’t have to search around for the Faceless One. Its tiny hand clamped around his fingers in seconds. Wincing, Max hauled it onto his lap.

“Let’s put you back where you came from, hey?”

Slowly but surely, Max found the relevant components of the doll and dragged them back onto the worktable. There was the physical rendering, followed by embedding the character traits and programming certain actions.

He saved his changes compulsively, each time looking down at the Faceless One to see if there was any change. He knew his job was done when the weight on his lap vanished, and the Faceless One on the screen squirmed on the worktable.

Mission accomplished.

Max sat back and took a large swig from the flask of tea. He wouldn’t be satisfied until he ensured that everything was as it should be on the game’s front end. After another mouthful of tea, he re-opened the game and slid on the headset again.

The Faceless One was trying to sit up on the table in front of him.

“Oh no you don’t,” Max muttered, and clicked on the restraints. They fastened around the Faceless One’s limbs, securing it in place. Finally, the scene looked as it had when Max had viewed it so long ago.

Max removed the headset and closed the game. He looked at his watch. It was after ten. The ballet would be well and truly over by now. Max pulled out his phone, wondering whether Clara had been in touch. She hadn’t, but he knew he needed to apologise for ruining the night as soon as possible.

He pressed the call button and then turned in surprise when Clara’s ringtone trilled behind him. There she was standing in the doorway.

“Clara.” Max hung up the phone and slipped it back into his pocket.

Josef must have let her in. She didn’t have access to the building and usually it was Max escorting her when she visited.

“Crisis averted, I assume?”

“Um, yeah.” Max gestured vaguely to the computers behind him. “But we have a lot of new material to add to our research notes. How did you know I was here?”

“Figured an emergency here was more likely than one at your apartment. Plus, I could walk here from the theatre, rather than calling an Uber.”

“Ah. Right.” In his rush to get to the office, Max hadn’t really considered that he’d left Clara with no transport. He rubbed the back of his neck, not sure what to say next.

“The ballet was good,” Clara remarked, filling the silence.

“I’m really sorry.” Max crossed to the door and took Clara’s hands in his. “I know you were really excited for tonight.”

“It’s okay,” Clara replied, giving a little shrug. “I know you had to fix things up here before they got out of hand.”  She tried to smile, but Max could see the disappointment behind it.

“I’ll make this up to you, I promise.”

Max put his arm around Clara, and together they began to walk out of the office.  When they reached Max’s car, Clara paused before climbing in.

“You know,” she said. “At least it was The Nutcracker. We can just try again next Christmas.”

New Release: Where the Weird Things Are Vol. 1

Hi everyone!

I’ve had a very stressful couple of months but we’re coming out of that now, and I have an announcement!

My short story “Sign Me Up” is featured in Deadset Press’s new anthology, Where The Weird Things Are Volume 1. It features a public servant in a job she hates on a dangerous mission to save dragons from taxpayer-funded extermination.

(You can tell I’m a public servant with a description like that 😂)

At the moment, there’s only an ebook available, which you can obtain at your favourite online book retailer via the handy universal book link.

Watch this space for the paperback!

a promo image for the Where the Weird Things Are anthology featuring the story Sign Me Up by Emily Wrayburn.

Well, hello, mid-March.

With a new book coming out at the end of the month and WordPress about to charge me for another year of domain registration, I thought I should pop in and update this blog a bit.

First of all, Enchanted Sleep, book two in the Drosselmeier Industries series, comes out on March 26! You can pre-order here! And here’s book one in case you haven’t read it yet, either! And if you’d prefer to read up a bit on the series before you commit, you can do so here!

Also, isn’t this cover just beautiful?

It shows a young white man with his hands raised to a virtual reality headset over his eyes. A spinning wheel and a fireplace are in the background. The title is Enchanted Sleep and the author is Emily Wrayburn.

All thanks go to Les (germancreative on Fiverr) for the design. I was pretty vague with what I wanted, and yet she managed to figure it out and give me something superb!

This novella has been a really good learning experience, in terms of both writing and publishing.

There was a two week period after I finished Draft Two in October last year where I was convinced the story was terrible and I should bin the whole thing. And throw in the whole self-publishing towel.

By the end of that month, I was slowly easing myself back out of that hole, and since then, the story has gone through four more drafts. Shout out here to beta readers Nicole, Leanne and Celia, who read Draft Four and gave me wonderful feedback, making me realise that some of my ideas weren’t expressed clearly, and pulling me up on some inconsistencies in the plot.

Draft 5 was read by another friend, Veronica, who was wonderful enough to not only say “you use this word a lot” (101 instances of the word ‘but’ in 11000 words! 🤣), but also used tracked changes to suggest how to get rid of half those instances. I’m very grateful to her for doing half the work for me!

I set up the pre-order to give myself a deadline, but when I had no choice but to do it, I discovered that Amazon doesn’t like you changing the release date of a book on pre-order. It let me do it once, but had I needed to change it a second time, I would then have been barred from publishing for a year!

But! I am now confident that I’m going to make that deadline with a good story, so we all live happily ever after.

So what’s next?

I set up the Amazon listing for this book in around October last year, but since then, I’ve decided I won’t be publishing anything else in 2022. Or at least, it’s not a priority. If it happens later in the year, great! But I really just want to spend this year writing. I have so many unfinished projects. I want to work on things that are bringing me joy, without the pressure of needing to finish them on a publishing schedule.

There will definitely be a third Drosselmeier Industries book. I’ve written some notes and an opening scene but now I have to figure out what happens next (#PantserProblems). I’ve also got an urban fantasy that I drafted last year but now want to pretty much gut and start again from scratch. And a bunch of short story ideas. The sky’s the limit!

I won’t send out newsletters all that often but I’ll still be pretty active on Instagram and Twitter if you want to hear more about what I’m doing. Maybe I’ll see you there!

The One With the End of the Year Summing Up

I remember saying at the end of 2020 that people were putting a helluva a lot of pressure on 2021 to be ~better~ than 2020. I think it’s pretty safe to say that 2021 did not deliver on that front, and I don’t think anyone is harbouring any of the same illusions about 2022.

In my case, I was more affected by the pandemic this year than last. In 2020, I still went into the office two days a week and we were never really in hard lockdown where I live. In one week of August 2021, we had more cases in our region than we’d had in the whole of 2020.

On the writing front, well… I looked at my January 1 goals post earlier and all I can say is “wow!” I acknowledged at the time that it was ambitious, but I have no idea how I ever thought I’d get through even half of that!

But let’s look at what I did achieve:

  • Completed a first draft of a new urban fantasy novella, Lucy Williams Is A Witch.
  • Completed two drafts of Enchanted Sleep (Drosselmeier Industries #2). I’m on track to release this in March.
  • Submitted two short stories to Deadset Press‘s upcoming anthology Where the Weird Things Are (still waiting to hear back on either of those – cross your fingers!)
  • Kept a pretty decent Instagram schedule, posting about what I was reading as well as snippets from what I was writing. I also ventured into the world of Instagram reels, though I’ve got plenty still to learn on that front!

I think the most important thing, though, is that I’ve really spent some time figuring out what sort of writing schedules and methods work for me. I will be able to use that to my advantage going into the new year! I’ll be back tomorrow with a (admittedly much less impressive) goals post for 2022.

See you then!