Lessons Learned: 5 Tips for Episodic Writing

Now that Season 1 of Jack Hansard is complete, this seems like a good time to take a step back and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a bit. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and the beautiful thing about mistakes is that they cause you to evaluate the way you work and the way you write. And, crucially, they make you figure out how to do it better next time.

So I present to you the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned from them. Although Jack Hansard is only a free series I publish for fun, these same lessons are applicable to all kinds of serial or episodic writing. Whether you’re publishing webcomics, writing weekly articles for an online magazine, maintaining a daily blog, serialising your novel or working on a short story series, I hope you find some useful pointers here.


Give yourself enough time to write.


I gave myself two weeks to write each Jack Hansard episode. It was just enough time to fit in around my job. I know there are writers out there who seem to be able to churn out a thousand words a day on top of working 40 hours a week, but I’m not one of them. And that’s okay. The important thing is to know your limits, and my limit is one Jack Hansard episode – or about 4000 words – per fortnight. Any more than your limit, and you run the risk of burning out.

You should also consider the quality of your work. Two weeks is the minimum I needed to write an episode, with full proof read and some minimal editing before it was published. And no matter how hard I tried, it was never, ever perfect. Because of course it’s not. For a perfect short story, ideally you want to leave it a few days, and then come back and re-do the whole shebang. The question is how important ‘perfect’ is to you.

At first, I was okay with imperfect – Hansard’s journey was intended as more of a training exercise from my perspective, a challenge to write consistently and meet deadlines. But as the story and characters grew, I grew endlessly attached to them and wanted to do them greater justice. I have made countless edits to the Jack Hansard stories – cleaning up the little niggles, polishing here and there – but it still frustrates me that I can’t pull it all down and piece it back together so that’s it becomes even better. If I were to rewind, I would give myself at least a month to write each episode, and I’d spend more time working out how they all intertwined in the wider scheme of things.

So before you set off on your episodic journey, before you publish anything and set the clock ticking, take some time to work out how long each episode, article, or strip will take you to produce – and make peace with the schedule you set yourself, because later on you’re gunna have a lot of fights with that bastard.


Once you’ve worked out your time-table, stick to it.

deadlinesI’m quite proud that I met my fortnightly deadline most of the time, even if it did result in a few episodes I wished I’d spent more time on. It proved to me that I really could work under pressure and still produce something of a decent quality.

I found my biggest set-backs came when I took some time off. Now, sometimes this is very necessary – in my case there was a funeral to attend, there was a massive adventure in Belgium, and there was Christmas reserved for friends and family. There’s no reason not to take these times off – if anything, I’d recommend that you build a holiday into your timetable so that you don’t burn out during periods you know you’ll be too busy to fully commit. But where I went wrong was in not setting a proper ‘return-to-work’ date. Particularly after Christmas, this was a deep holiday hole I fell down where a long stint away from writing the series left me very complacent and lacking enthusiasm.

My key advice would be to keep your holidays short. And just because you’re having time away from the series, doesn’t mean you should have time away from writing altogether. Try using the time to pursue other projects, or enjoy writing just for the sake of it – anything to keep your eye in.

And how can you make your brief holidays easier on both yourself and your readers?


Get started before you start.

write the thingsBefore I launched An Inspired Mess and Jack Hansard, I’d already written the first two episodes to give myself a head start. And, even more cunningly, I’d written two future stories (which became Episodes 11 and 16, both sparking their own sub-plots lasting several very fun installments).

These future episodes were there to give me breathing space, to cover my ass if I couldn’t finish the time-tabled episode in time, in case a family emergency came up, and to provide content during my planned ‘holiday’ in the middle of the series.

All very good in theory. My mistake: I didn’t use my breathing space. I should have kept at least one episode ahead, but I didn’t. If I had, there wouldn’t have been month-long gaps in the summer and winter where nothing was uploaded.

So make sure you have several stories or articles written before you publish the first one, and save one or two for those unexpected gaps that will undoubtedly crop up.

On the subject of planning . . .


Keep notes.

notesOther people might say ‘make plans’, but I say that’s up to you. Best-laid plans work for some, and the advantages of knowing the plot in advance are obvious. But I’m someone who prefers to plan off the cuff – I’ve the rough plot for the next three episodes, and a vague sense of the overarching story, but I don’t want to be hemmed in by details. The brilliant thing about a short story series is that some very unexpected details can unfold if you just go with the flow and allow the series to take a different direction from time to time.

But if you don’t write plans, write notes. These are those unfolding details that might become very important later. So you just introduced a side-character who you whimsically gave a sense of humour that revolves entirely around fish puns . . . five stories later a joke about a haddock might end up the turning point of the whole plot. Or perhaps it’s the colour of his eyes? Her eyes? Damn, where did our main character meet this person again?

Going over these little details can also help you in times of Writer’s Block, as well as in tightening your overarching storyline. If you’d forgotten that one particular character loved fish puns, reading over the notes could spark that very turning point in the plot.

I was a lousy note-taker, and I wish I’d created a binder full of them for easy reference. Instead I found myself leafing through the hand-written drafts and scanning the published episodes for references to personality quirks and physical descriptions I couldn’t quite recall. In particular, the way Ang speaks – I was constantly referring to the Coblyn’s previous dialogue to refresh my memory. Character profiles: wish I’d bothered.

If your episodic writing is more non-fiction based, I would still suggest keeping notes of the subjects you’ve covered. Say you blog about a different 80s glam metal album cover each week – you probably want to keep a record of what you’ve featured so far, and a list of your favourite words for describing fabulous hair.

motley crue
Fabulous hair.

And finally . . .


Keep going!

don't quitRemember to believe in yourself, and the fact that your work isn’t as terrible as you sometimes think it is. Show it to your friends and family and believe them when they tell you they like it. If they don’t – take on board their advice, it’ll only make you stronger. And it’ll make them more invested in helping you; they’ll care about your work when you show that you care about their opinion.

I wouldn’t have got this far without my fiancé nagging me in the background. Even though my genre isn’t really his cup of tea, he’s dutifully proof read and mercilessly criticised all of the Jack Hansard series for me (and half of these blog posts, too). He gave me the push (shove) I needed to get that final episode done when I was suffering from prolonged Christmas/New Year’s/Springtime/GotANewJob blues (read: excuses).

So find someone, or a group of someones, who you can rely on to give you that extra little push when you’ve lost your mojo, and remember that a bit of tough love and self-discipline will get you further than you expect.


If you have any tips of your own I’d love to hear them – just leave a comment below. Take care y’all.

Season Finale: What happens now?



Holy crap. We made it guys. We made it to Episode freakin’ 20.

Now what?

I suppose we should have a quick retrospective. An Inspired Mess and the Jack Hansard Series launched way back in January 2015. I published one episode roughly every two weeks – sure, I took a short holiday in the middle, and the beginning of this year suffered a blip as I got engaged and started a new job – but broadly speaking I’ve accomplished what I set out to do: finish what I started. I said I’d get to 20 Episodes, and I have. Suck it, stage fright.

Through Jack’s ridiculous misadventures we’ve encountered monsters in abundance, magic aplenty, mayhem galore . . . and we’ve topped it off with an epic showdown between gods, humans, and one quiet-eyed femme fatale. And, of course, the little Welsh coblyn.

What the future holds, I’m not quite sure yet. Do I continue on into Season 2? Do I adapt the existing stories into a different format? Do I continue staring at my laptop saying ‘What do I do?’

Whatever the case, Hansard is too big in my head to just go back to sleep. There’s a definite future out there, and I’m looking forward to exploring it.

As for you guys . . .  the main thing I want to say is thanks. Thanks for sticking with me, and making this a worthwhile endeavour. I hope Hansard has been as entertaining for you as he has for me. If you like what you’ve read of the series, or have some thoughts on what I should do next, leave me a comment – you’ll undoubtedly influence my decision in some way or other. And I’d be just utterly chuffed to hear from you.

If you want to keep updated on what happens next, give that big old ‘Follow’ button a click. Or if you prefer, hit me up on Facebook. I hope we see each other again. Take care!






Why Rejection Makes Me Ecstatic


A monumental event occurred in my life today. I was rejected by a leading Science Fiction magazine.

Wait, what?

You heard (read?) me right. At the top of my inbox, only three hours after I’d checked the online status of my short story (‘Under Review’), a nondescript email arrived with the news that my submission was not accepted.

And it made me happy.

“Dear Georgina,

Thank you very much for letting us see “Sleeping Mother.”  We appreciate your taking the time to send it in for our consideration.  Although it does not suit the needs of the magazine at this time, we wish you luck with placing it elsewhere.


*******, Editor
Asimov’s Science Fiction”

Nothing special. Fairly impersonal, no critical advice offered; of course not, because editors don’t have that sort of time to spend on every budding would-be in their slush pile. So why did it strike such a chord?

This is the sort of news that’s meant to knock a writer to the floor with doubt and self-pity. It’s meant to rock your belief in yourself and the skills you thought you possessed. It’ll make you angry with yourself and question why you even bother writing this dumb shit anyway.

Yeah, I was actually worried those things would happen. I knew, after all the online articles and advice columns I’ve read, that it would be highly unlikely for my very first submission to get accepted. I knew to expect a rejection. But I still kinda dreaded it.

Problem is, that kind of dread can lead to inaction, which can be even worse than self-pity. I’ve been writing since the age of at least ten, maybe younger. I’ve got these cute exercise books full of my ridiculous, badly-spelled, early fiction. By the age of fourteen I knew I wanted to be a published author, and I’ve had that goal in the back of my head ever since.

Funny how it’s stayed at the back for so long, where it’s safe and comfortable.

I made some small, tentative steps – short story competitions, writing forums, even the Jack Hansard series has been arguably tentative. Not once have I approached a professional market, taken myself seriously in a professional capacity… until now.

Ultimately, I feel happy with this rejection because it’s my very first one. First blood. A rite of passage. Proof that I’ve crossed some invisible barrier in my head. Proof that, actually, rejection isn’t all that bad. That rejection, if anything, should make you work even harder.

First thing I did was review my manuscript and make changes. Re-read formatting guidelines. Tightened sentence structure. And then I went to the next magazine on my list, and submitted to them. I feel it’s worth a second opinion.

But while I wait for a reply, I’m going to give the story an overhaul, and make it kick even more ass. It might take another ten, twenty rejections, but eventually I’m going to end up with a story that kicks so hard somebody is going to have to help pick the editor up off the floor.

I want to frame my first rejection and stick it on my wall, and it will sit there as a reminder that there’s no reason to be scared of taking that step, because literally the worst thing that can happen is that you make yourself a better writer.

Sure, I know that sounds easier said than done. It’s one of those things that can’t really be taught – only you can make the changes required by improvement, and only you can make yourself want to pursue that difficult road. But there are some small nuggets of advice and encouragement we can share among ourselves. For my money, after a rejection (and, in fact, before you consider submitting anything, anywhere) an easy first step is to check your manuscript has been formatted correctly. It won’t save a poorly written story, but it might stop a good one sliding out from under the editor’s gaze. They do a crap-ton of reading – so make it easier on the eye for them. For an excellent guide, I sincerely recommend William Shunn’s comprehensive, and above all illustrative guide to achieving the industry standard: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html I’d read descriptions of correct formatting elsewhere, but missed crucial elements until I saw it laid out clearly on the page like this.

I would then recommend reading this article by Sarah Olson for some seriously helpful and down-to-earth advice from slush readers. Even if you’ve heard all this advice before, it’s still incredibly interesting to get an insider perspective. I wouldn’t have guessed that cannibalism themes were apparently so prevalent. Or that starting sentences with ‘It was…’ can be a major turn-off for some editors. They’ve read it all before. Our job is to find the uncommon denominator.

And finally, keep writing, and don’t lose faith. A rejection doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It might mean you misjudged the market, or you landed the editor who has already read several alien invasion stories that day, or that your work was good, but not the best. So keep writing until you are the best, and don’t let dread get the better of you. And frame that rejection letter. Wear it as a point of pride.

Lego Card 2

Merry Holiday-Of-Your-Choice from me and all the gang! Just about managed to Lego-ify them accurately – there was a distinct lack of blue hair for Peggy and Coblyn-like clothing for Goron and Ang. Let’s say they were bribed with pies to dress as elves.

If you want to have some fun Lego-ifying yourself or your own characters, you can do so here.

Merry Christmas, and see you in the new year!

The penultimate installment of the Jack Hansard series is now up! In Episode 19: Little Fish Hansard and co. finally come face to face with the phoenix creature they’ve been seeking . . . but it’s not quite what the old stories described. Hansard just might be more out of his depth than he realises.

Sorry for the wait, the engagement and then Christmas prep sort of got the better of me (but Yay, engagement! and Yay, Christmas!). The final episode of Series 1 will be added in the new year. Hope it’s an enjoyable read.


Otherwise Engaged

This evening I was supposed to finish editing and upload Episode 19 of the Jack Hansard Series . . . but I haven’t, because a LIFE EVENT has happened to me.

My partner, Jake, against his better judgement and general common sense, decided to propose to me today. And I, against my better judgement and general common sense, accepted.

An evening of rollicking debauchery followed (we had a bottle of port and rang round our relatives, exciting stuff). Unfortunately this means I’m postponing Episode 19 until, I don’t know when – maybe tomorrow, maybe this weekend. It won’t be long, anyhow.

If you’re the type of person who like these things, here’s the ring – as unconventional as we are.

It’s a medieval ring of the ‘clasped hands’ type, otherwise known as a fede ring. (So it’s not even new! He bought me a second-hand ring! But just try telling me it isn’t cool to be presented with a ring that was probably used in a betrothal some 600 years ago.)


So there we are, achievement unlocked, onto the next level of the game. Hope I’ve unlocked some cool new superpowers to go with it. (Just call me huldra.)

Take care all, you’ll hear from me again soon~

P.S. The two catch-phrases of the evening: “When’s the wedding?” and “How’re the chickens?” . . . People are weird xD

‘Guitar Bands Are On The Way Out’ British Agents And Short Story Collections

I’ve been wondering about short stories in the publishing landscape for a while now. At first I was all, “Well of course short stories would be hard to sell,” but since I realised how much I and others I know love to consume them, that big ol’ “WHY?” has been forming in my brain. Erinna Mettler makes a fantastic, rightfully indignant point.


On Friday, checking in with Twitter, I came across #Authorday, which invited tweeters to ask agents from Peters Fraser & Dunlop questions about their work. I am presently sending out a themed collection of short stories so I thought I’d ask the obvious.

#Authorday how come agents hate short story collections when the best do actually sell better than bad genre?

The answer?

Because finding a publisher to buy them is like putting a magnet to a haystack for that elusive needle.

I replied that as it was once again the year of the short story it should be getting easier for agents to get publishers interested and asked if it wasn’t a matter of pre-conception all round? Another short story writer commented that he too was disappointed by the lack of mainstream push for the genre. Neither of us got any further response.

This makes me so mad. What…

View original post 665 more words

Bursts of Colour

The Jack Hansard Series is now up to Episode 18, and I’m feeling like a proud mother in the weeks leading up to graduation. Better yet, I feel like the student who knows their long slog of essays and deadlines is finally drawing to an end. Bit of relief, bit of pride, a bit of last minute nerves and anticipation.

There are just two more installments to go this year: Episode 20 in December will bring to a close what I’ve affectionately come to call Season 1. When I started writing in January, I didn’t know if I’d get this far. I’ve been testing myself the whole way, daring myself to fail and let not just myself down, but all those who’ve helped to push me, encourage me along.

I know I’ve not got much of an audience – I’m not kidding myself with illusions of grandeur here – but I hope that what audience I do have is enjoying what I have to offer. Ultimately, that’s what really concerns me: not how wide my readership is, but whether I can entertain and amuse you in the same tradition of countless authors who have brought bursts of colour to my life. I want to pass the parcel on; the best thing is seeing the smile on the person who gets to unwrap the next layer. The worst thing is seeing them disappointed by the shitty plastic whistle inside.

So, small and silent as you are, I don’t want to disappoint you with some shitty ending (I can at least promise it won’t be a plastic whistle). I hope you’ve been enjoying the ride as much as me, and I’ll try and make our shared finale as explosively colourful as possible.

See you on the other side.


Birmingham Comic Con! (Lessons in fear and perseverance)

Yesterday was nothing short of an ordeal. Yesterday was the fruition of a challenge I privately set my self a month ago:

Go to Comic Con. Hand out some Jack Hansard reading material.

That’s it. No physical trials, no emotional trauma involved. I’d got my zines ready – a basic little publication with Episode 1 of the series tucked inside – and all I’d have to do is hand them out over the course of a day, while taking in the awesome sights of the con at the same time. Easy-peasy, right?

That’s what I thought.

It seemed like a sensible plan. From the very beginning, An Inspired Mess has been a project in self-confidence, in learning how to say ‘Look at me’ without shrinking away from the limelight. It’s an attempt to learn how to accept the idea of being read, and judged, and criticised, and not running away from the prospect of failure.

Step 1: write something and put it somewhere public. You can put a big ol’ tick next to that one. The Jack Hansard Series is now 17 episodes and counting, all free to read for anyone who wants to.

Trouble is, it’s easy to throw your work out into the vast ocean that is the world-wide web. You’ll be swallowed by the currents – torrents – of other content, and you can sit back and relax, knowing that you’re drowning in safe anonymity and insignificance.

When I realised Comic Con was going to be within travelling distance in November, a nugget of rebellion formed in my mind. Stop playing it safe, it said. Are you really content with staying here in your sheltered hidey-hole, all comfy knowing you’re not attracting any real attention? Are you happy being a coward?

If you ever want to push my buttons, just call me afraid. I’ve climbed mountains just to give vertigo a good old punch to the face. I’ve done stunt-falls from high castle walls just to prove I was better than the knots in my stomach. And yesterday, I went to Comic Con to prove that I’m not afraid of being read.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I arrived about 12:30, happily admitted with no queues, and was first hit by the size of the hall. I’ve never been to a con as big as this. I’m used to conventions that take up, say, a hotel, where the atmosphere feels more intimate; friendlier, perhaps. I knew right away that this wasn’t going to go down the way it had in my head. I thought I was going to pick a spot, hand out a hundred zines in an hour, and then go enjoy myself.

Episode 1 Booklets!

I did the opposite. I spent the first hour browsing the colourful stalls and admiring the awesome costumes . . . all the while my stomach was steadily twisting and tightening with sickly fear. It was horrible, psyching myself up to start handing out the first few copies. I’ll hand them out as I’m walking, I thought. It’ll be easier to keep moving.

Wrong. I began to offer some out, and before I’d got rid of even ten I felt the desperate urge to run and hide in the toilets for the rest of the day. I’ve now got some serious respect for those people who hand out literature for  a living. We’ve become so conditioned to expecting spam that our gut-reaction is to be intensely wary of anyone handing out anything.

“Hi there, would you like a free story?” I’d ask.

Some people took it with a look of deep suspicion, like they were expecting it to explode. The most demotivating reactions were those who just . . . ignored me. I wondered, as I kept on smiling, when did people suddenly stop wanting free stuff? Worse than that were the reactions my imagination was conjuring for me. Images of these poor people reading my little crapfest of a short story and sneering in disgust, throwing it away, calling it a piece of junk. Suddenly I didn’t want anybody to read it at all.

I felt pretty worthless. I’d misjudged what people wanted, and I’d misjudged what I was capable of. I spent five minutes gearing up to every person I approached. Each encounter felt draining, whether they took the free zine or not. Thirty minutes in, I felt like the biggest idiot at the whole event. There should’ve been an arrow over my head; people could’ve paid to take a picture with me.

In the end, it was my partner who made me keep going.

“You haven’t handed one out in the last ten minutes,” he said. “Give one to that guy there. You can do this.”

“You’d tell me if I was being an idiot, right?”


Whatever doubts I have about myself, I trust his judgement. I kept going. And after a little while . . . it got easier.

“Would you like a free story?”


It always startled me, but  the occasional positive response really lifted my mood, and they became a bit more frequent as I stuck it out. One person even tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a copy. Just at a moment when I was flagging, too. Weird how such a small thing can give you a new lease of life.

My favourite encounter was with a sixteen-year old Harley Quinn with a ‘Free Hugs’ sign.

“Trade you a free story for a free hug?” I asked cheerfully. I felt I’d gotten the hang of it by this point.

As we got talking, I learned that Miss Quinn was fighting her own battle: she was teaching herself to get used to physical contact.

“I’m not good with being touched by people,” she explained. “My uncle’s only had about four hugs from me in my entire life. I decided this morning that I’d try to help myself get over it at the con.”

How cool is that? Here we were, two people giving away a free thing, both for similar reasons, facing fears and fighting our own personal battles. She told me she’d gotten a lot better in the few hours she’d been at it. While talking to her, I realised I had, too.

I don’t expect a sudden upsurge in readership due to my endeavours, but I don’t feel that I’ve failed, either. Because ultimately, the ordeal had turned into a lesson. My aim of the day was to drum up some interest, to actively seek out an audience. Instead, I came away with a better appreciation for what the job requires, and an idea of how I could improve it. The most valuable lessons: 1) Handing out literature is tough. 2) Relax. Who cares if one stranger doesn’t like your material? You won’t see them ever again. 3) Have some faith in yourself. You can do it.

So if you’re someone like me, another insignificant writer trying to drum up an audience, I hope this has been a useful account to you. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there. Persevere, and it’ll get easier. The worst that can happen? You learn how to do better next time.

And if you’re one of those people who kindly accepted a Jack Hansard episode from me, I’d firstly like to apologise, just in case I seemed at all rude – I was a bit scared, and just trying to get it over with. And secondly I’d like to thank you, for allowing me to intrude on your life for just a moment to ask you to read me. Most of all, I hope that I don’t disappoint. Because that’s one fear I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to beat.

comic con
Is that a pod racer behind me? Why yes, yes it is.