Time to Write?

Hello fellow writers! Sorry I’ve been so quiet the last few months. I cannot believe we are in November already. I don’t know about you but the sudden dark evenings and freezing weather has been an unwelcome, and overdue, wake up call. We have less than two months left to run in 2017 and I’m a million miles behind where I wanted to be. All those promises I made myself at the turn of the year. It’s that time where we dust off the enthusiastically scrawled to do lists from January and wince.

I’ve had an odd year from a writing point of view. My instinct while drafting this post was to write about how much I’d neglected it but I figure 130k in word count counteracts that claim. In fact, given I thought that I had no focus, no plan and pretty much no discipline all year, I’m pretty damn proud of what I’ve managed to achieve. I am hoping by year end, I’ll have another finished novel. Not bad for a year that I am putting fairly and squarely in the “crazy” category.

November is always a bit of a jerk back into reality for my writer’s brain because it brings with it NaNoWriMo and the momentus challenge of writing 50k while juggling a day job, remembering to buy Christmas presents and trying not to freeze to death. It makes me really think, more than anything else, about time management.

I recently went on a Management and Leadership course for my sins (thank you day job). And upon this course, I discovered apparently I’m lousy at delegation, I’ve got lousy people skills and I’m so cynical I probably have a complex but the one thing it turns out I’m pretty good at, is time management. It’s vital with my day job. If I didn’t have everything planned, scheduled, prioritised and recorded, I’d collapse and get nothing done. More than anything, what that course really made me realise is that I am capable of that level of dedication, determination and discipline.

Which got me to thinking, I managed 130k in a year where I wasn’t trying. Imagine what I could be capable of if I applied the same dedication?

And I don’t think this applies to just me. Most writers I meet say the same things. “I never have enough time to write”. “Whenever I plan to write, twenty four other things pop up that need doing.” Admit it, we’ve all trotted out those familiar excuses. And yet, do you meet your deadlines at work? Do you somehow find the time even when there is none to find and complete the project with seconds to spare? Can you imagine what your boss would say if you told them “sorry I can’t do that today, I don’t have time”? So why do we allow ourselves to do it with our writing?

So I thought I’d scribble a few tips on how I hit the 100k word count in under a year and how we as writers can stop making excuses and find time to write.

1. COMMIT YOURSELF

Mindset is very important for me. Why am I organised at work? Because I feel like I have to. If I’m not, I miss my targets, my bosses get annoyed and I get fired. It’s simple survival.

The problem with writing, particularly if you are the self published author type like me, is you are pretty much accountable only to yourself. And weirdly, we won’t let down our bosses, our friends, our family or even crazy aunt Sue, but we are perfectly happy to let ourselves down time and time again.

None of anything that follows will work unless we hold ourselves to it. And it’s hard. It is the hardest part of being a writer if you ask me. I’ve been trying to get better at it since I started this path over a decade ago and I’m still fighting my instincts. I find myself telling people that writing is a hobby, waving it away with a sweep of my hand and a “it’s something to fill the time.” From here on out, that stops.

Writing is my second job. It is not an addendum that I squeeze into ten minutes at 2am in the morning. I am committed to making it happen.

2. SPLIT YOUR DREAMS AND YOUR GOALS

Knowing what you want to achieve is usually a pretty good place to start. The thing I’ve learnt with targets is there are two types: there are the inspirational dreams, and the practical goals.

In the inspirational column we have things like “I want to be as successful as JK Rowling” and “I want to retire and live off the money from my books”. Both are do-able (in theory). But both are ideas. They are the final chapter when we’ve only just begun drafting the prologue. And that’s fine. In fact, more than fine.

I need my inspirational DREAMS. It’s what keeps me going. In my own way, they are my version of hope.

They are my long term dreams. On my worst days, I look up at these scribbles and they remind me why I keep going. But dreams are… well… big. It’s kind of the point. But big is intimidating. Big is Oh My God Where Do I Start? So to get to them, we need to break them down into practical goals.

These are the goals that come with an action plan. They are shorter term. And they can be assigned a deadline. If column one is hopes, then column two is the to-do list that goes with. Inspirational is what you want to achieve. Practical is how you plan on doing that. Essentially, your short term goals.

You can break them down even further. So instead of staring the face of a big, scary dream which would put off even the strongest will, instead we end up with a set of bitesize tasks that are altogether more manageable.

I write down my dreams once a year. Normally at New Year. They rarely change and regularly grow.

At the beginning of each month (more or less), I write down my goals for the month. I try to keep this short, two or three items at most. And then on a weekly basis, I come up with an action plan, bringing us to…

3. Have a plan

Now you have your goals, organise them into a plan.  The goal here is to break it down into parts small enough that they are manageable and can be practically fitted into our busy lives.

Couple of things I’ve learnt over the years:

  • Be honest – If you know you aren’t a morning person, don’t design a plan that requires you to wake up an hour early to get in 500 words before work.
  • Plan to your strengths – We all know our own writing quirks. I am more productive in a busy environment. I can write by hand but get frustrated if I can’t get my ideas down fast enough so I plan around that. Are you a night owl? Can you write straight out of the gate or do you need twenty minutes prep time?
  • Keep your eye on the target – At one point, I used to stick post it notes on the wall behind my computer with my goals on them. I find when I’m staring at a blank page with a killer headache from trying to force words out, seeing in black and white the reason why I’m torturing myself keeps me motivated.
  • Know what motivates you – Are you a carrot person or a stick person? Do you need cheerleaders or are you a lone wolf? Are you motivated by reaching for future success or are you in this for the joy of creation, or both? Build your plan around this. Simple question to ask yourself – do you think of your progress in your novel in number of words, or in moments? So is it, I want to write 500 words (deadline motivated person) or is it, I really want to finish this scene (creation motivated). Break down your project in a way that suits you. Not everyone is a word count person.
  • Accept things aren’t going to go as planned – Life happens. If you get stressed out every time the unexpected derails your plan, you’ll end up going backwards. Don’t let it deter you. Instead, note whatever was supposed to be achieved and work it into the next week’s plan. For example, I was hide-under-my-duvet sick for most of October. If I dragged 1000 words out in the month that’s a lot. But I’ve re-balanced November to accommodate for the distance I’m now behind.
  • Change it up – Routine is a buzzkiller (unless you are a routine sort of person). Routine means rut. Rut means boredom. Boredom means no more progress.

4. Stick to the Plan (By Any Means NeCESSARY)

Bribe, blackmail, guilt. Reminders. Alerts. Alarms. Whatever works for you. Find the thing that will make you open that manuscript when all you feel like doing is collapsing on the couch and disappearing into the wonderful world of Netflix.

5. Prioritise

At the end of the day, some progress is better than nothing and some weeks are going to be better than others. Know which bits are most important to you so when you need to make a choice, you already know which targets to prioritise.

6. Just Do It

No excuses. No rationales. No procrastinating. Even the best laid plans will only work if we put them into practice. At the end of the day, that’s how I’ve hit my 100k target this year. No matter atter how uninspired I felt. No matter how tired I was. I just got it done. I should caveat that there are genuine reasons why we can’t write. Sickness, children, work commitments, actually wanting a semblance of a social life to name but a few. This is about not letting the non-reasons creep in. If you hear yourself sprouting one, stop and turn it into a motivation cue to get fingers to keyboard and type.

We’ve all been there but “I don’t want to just write rubbish” is not an excuse. Words, any words, are better than a blank page. Don’t be Henry. Hands up who has written that opening before? I know I have…

Inspirational Women Writers: An Essay

In honour of International Women’s Day this week (March 8th) I’ve decided to do something a little different with this post. I open this with a warning. Very rarely will I use this blog to talk about “politically charged” issues. This is not a post about writing tips or how to best edit your latest draft. Today is a post about being a woman in a male dominated market. It is about being a writer, a female writer. And it is a dedication to the amazing women who have paved the way and keep me inspired to keep going, keep fighting and keep believing that one day my name will grace the spines amongst them.

I am a woman. I am very proud of this fact. I guess I’m a feminist too. I believe in equality. To me, Emma Watson summed up my feelings pretty well in this short clip.

I do not believe in using feminism as a weapon against either other women or men. I simply want the field in which I work to be fair, just and equal.

And I don’t think that is too much to ask for.

I want to be able to wear ribbons in my hair, stiletto heels and perfume and not be judged as weaker for it. But equally I do not believe in getting dressed up in a power suit and becoming “one of the lads”. To me, that is not the point of feminism either. I want to be respected and be feminine.

VIDA is a website dedicated to women in the literary arts. Most people won’t have heard of it. Every year, they conduct a survey called “VIDA Counts” where they look at the representation of women in the arts. They look at statistics like the number of female reviewers at a given magazine, or the percentage of female to male authors reviewed. To pick, Harper’s Magazine, for example, only 34% of book reviewers were female and only 30% of reviewed authors were female in 2015. The London Review of Books, only 22.5% of reviewed authors were female. New York Book Review was more positive. Women actual swing the vote when it comes to writing reviews (albeit marginally) but still trail men in featured reviews (40%). The Times Literary Supplament made for grim reading with only 25% of reviewed books having been written by women. (Please see link for full stats)

But it isn’t all bad news. Firstly, these figures are improving (believe it or not). And second, women are getting noticed. The Guardian released its list of top selling books in 2016. 4 of the top 10 were written by women (JK Rowling, Jojo Moyes x2, Paula Hawkins) and one of the ten was the Guinness Book of World Records, so it’s really 4 to 5 and here’s the best part, JK and Paula are one and two and when you add up the number of books sold, women outsold men at 55% of the sales. And if we are in the mood to be pedantic, the only three “adult fiction” books on the list were written by women. The men counted for children’s fiction and healthy eating.

So what’s my point?

Women are making their mark in the fiction world. I could, for example, talk about how that same top sellers list looks sickeningly like a “usual suspects” list. It was so refreshing to see Paula up there. Someone new. Someone breaking into the club. But that is not a problem exclusive to women and so a rant for another time perhaps. The point is, we are represented and this post is a celebration of that. It is a thank you and an acknowledgement to the amazing female writers out there, past, current and future.

I turn my eye to those who have made it. Who are flying the flag and paving the way for those of us to follow. We each have our own sources of inspiration. On another day, in another post, I could talk to the male writers (equality after all) that have inspired me to be the writer I am today but today, this week, is about women. And these five amazing women have helped light my literary fire.

1. JK Rowling

I imagine this entry is no surprise to any regular reader of my blog. I fangirl over Ms Rowling. A lot. To me, she is amazing. She wrote a series that inspired an entire generation and she did it when she was at her lowest point. She risked everything and took a chance. And it wasn’t a smooth ride. The story of her numerous rejections is now infamous as is the story of how she finally got her deal. A little girl picking up a book about a boy wizard and telling her dad he simply had to publish it.

JK and her universe are the reason I write. My parents bought me Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone when I was seven years old. Before it became anything. Before anyone had heard of it. And I fell in love. With the world. With the characters. But also with the idea of magic. It made me realise the true joy in reading and it made me want to give that joy to others. Within a year, my by-then eight year old self had finished her first fan fiction adventure. It was terrible. But I don’t care. It lit the spark. I still have it. In some ways, it is one of the works I am most proud of even now.

JK has done so much for writers, especially female writers. She has made being an author “cool” again. She is a Cinderella story for us all to aspire to. She is a lesson in perseverance and holding your ground when it matters.

2. Martina Cole

I had the immense pleasure of meeting this amazing author last year. I don’t know what I expected but the woman I met was so amazingly down to Earth and approachable. Here was this multi bestselling author chatting away to me about my (literally a week before) published debut novel. Giggling as we shared stories of writing disasters and sharing our gripes with the writer’s problems we all face. I will never forget her grabbing at my hands and grinning at me in nervous excitement as she waited to be called up onto the stage for interview. I just remember thinking “wow”, she had no airs, no graces and she was all the more charming and worthy of my respect for it. I remember thinking, “I hope I’m like that. If I ever find success in this. I hope I am just like her.”

She is a UK crime fiction giant. If ever there was a man’s world that’s it. She took them on, and she beat them into submission. According to wiki, “she has achieved sales of over fourteen million in the UK alone and her tenth novel, The Know, spent seven weeks on The Sunday Times‘s hardback best-sellers list.” She’s also a massive campaigner for women’s rights in prison.

3. Emily Bronte

She only wrote one book. Just one. And yet her name is a household feature. Wuthering Heights. The beautiful, heartbreaking, deliciously dark and wild love story of Heathcliff and his Catherine. It has spawned more pop songs than I can name (perhaps most famously Kate Bush’s hit of the same name), at least a dozen movie remakes, leaving generations of mothers and daughers arguing who is the best Heathcliff and more than its fair share of retellings. It was a book that shocked and appalled readers and critics alike when it was first released. It defied convention. She defied convention. Some commentators would go so far as to say she was the first female author to dare write about the same passions and powers as the men of the time. She wrote a book in which women were not just damsels. They were strong. They were passionate. They were an equal to their male compatriots.

One book. She did all that. Pretty awe-inspiring if you ask me.

4. Enid Blyton

I know she isn’t without her controversy but I doubt there was a single English kid in my generation who didn’t have at least one of her books on her bookshelf. Beside Harry, these were the books I grew up with. These are the adventures I went on as a kid. And I loved them. She wrote an astonishing amount of books (762 according to wiki!). And she stood strong as a bestselling author in a field that was undeniably male dominated at the time. I agree that her later works had their… issues, about which I won’t say any more but this does not take away from her achievements.

5. Shonda Rhimes

Don’t worry if you have no idea who this is. I used the word “writer” at the top on purpose. Shonda is not a novelist. She writes TV shows. I’ll bet you’ve heard of her headline, ten seasons and counting show “Grey’s Anatomy” or perhaps her more recent “Scandal”. “How To Get Away With Murder” is under her production banner, ShondaLand. Oddly enough, I’m not a huge Grey’s fan. It’s okay if it’s on. It has some nice moments but it doesn’t overwhelm me. I do not include her on this list for my love of her shows. I include her for the impact she’s had on an industry ruled by men. She is one of the women forcing Hollywood to listen. To stand up and tell our stories too. Twenty, even as recently as ten years ago, would a woman have truly believed it possible that a woman would not only be writing and producing these huge productions, but have a production company in her own name behind her.

If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

#BeBoldForChange

10 Motivational Quotes from Walt Disney To Get You To Happily Ever After (AKA Published)

This week I did something insane. Something I never thought would actually happen. Something I was pretty sure by the end the odds were never going to be in my favour for.

I published my debut novel!!!

White as Snow is officially on sale on Kindle and I can officially call myself a published author. In many ways, I just hit Happily Ever After. If this was a Disney movie, this is where the prince and princess would ride off into the distance as we fade out to credits while some Disney starlet we’ve never really heard of attempts to re-sing the signature song.

But I won’t lie. There have been days (months, nah scratch that, years) that I thought this day would never come. This book has been ten years in development. It has had four complete rewrites, most of the characters have changed name at least once, it even had a genre swap at one point – and let’s not even get into the sheer number of drafting and editing versions it went through. And on the days when I hit my low points, I needed all the motivation I could get.

Finally seeing the word “LIVE” on my Amazon bookshelf filled me with a mix of emotions. Ecstasy. Disbelief. Oh-My-God-What-Have-I-Done. But most of all, I felt pride. I felt a sense of sheer accomplishment. Even if the whole world hates it. Even if I never sell so much as a single copy. It is mine. I did it. It’s been a hell of a journey and I survived. I saw Happily Ever After and I did not stop fighting dragons until I got there. I might be bruised and scared, but I’ll tell you something, it was 1000% worth it.

Therefore it seemed only apt on the eve of my first great step into authordom and given my novel is indeed a fairytale retelling, that I turn to the Godfather of them All. The Master of Magic and the Man who proved Happily Ever After is out there for anyone willing to fight for it – Mr Walt Disney.

Disney is a huge part of what made me the writer I am. There is no doubt that my fascination with fairytales and all things magical came from a steady childhood diet of the best of the Mouse. And as I grew older, and came to appreciate things beyond pretty princesses and catchy tunes, I came too to admire the sheer craft of his unique ability to bring such startling storytelling from those around him.

In a very personal sense, his imagining (namely Walt Disney World Florida) is also to thank for me having the courage to pick this project up and take it from the (awful) story it was back then and turn it into the (I’m pretty proud of it) novel it is today. In my second year at Uni, I had the fortune of working in Orlando for three months in Magic Kingdom. I left the UK that summer just another graduate resigned on her path to a nice sensible little job in an office to pay the bills who didn’t even give her writing a second chance. I came back three months later a writer. A lot of that was to do with the amazing people I met out there but some of it was also about being inside one man’s dream. Though I always did find it heartbreaking he died before it opened. I remember sitting that day in induction training at the University of Disney (because yes there is such a thing – I have a diploma and everything) and thinking how terribly sad it would be for your dream to come true and you never knew it.

His background too, is inspiring. This is a man who came from nothing. The boy who used to do the paper round in worn out shoes in the snow. He was told time and time again that it wouldn’t happen. To give up on his dream.

But he never did.

Sometimes (when I really want to depress myself) I think about what the world might have been like if Disney had listened to the naysayers. If he had just thrown his hands up and gone “screw it” and given up on his little mouse. Whatever you may think of Walt (because trust me I know he wasn’t all candy floss and chalk paintings), his determination is one to be admired.

So here are my favourite Disney quotes – the words of wisdom that have kept me on track this past decade and remind all of us, no matter where we are in our journeys, that Happily Ever After is out there – we just have to keep fighting.

1. THE gentle reminder that imagination is not something only for children

Disney Quote2. the PEP talk we all need to hear every once in a whileDisney Quote

3. THE “Chill It’s not as bad as you think it is” Motto

why-worry

4. THE remember why we do this in the first place reminder
treasure

5. THE “Anything is Possible” BOOST

if-you-can-dream-ityou-can-do-it

6. THE JOY MANIFESTO

its-kinda-fun

7. THE “Get on with it” prompt

the-quickest-way

8. THE “BELieve in yourself” vote of confidence

when-you-believe

Important to remember when you are staring at your draft in week three hundred and twenty-one and despairing.

9. THE disney equivalent of “if it doesn’t scare you, you aren’t doing it right”

Disney Quote

And the moral of the story. I am scared witless if I’m complete honest about the next phase of the journey I’m on. To use another old adage, we create our own luck. Happily Ever After isn’t an accident, it’s the result of years and years of hard toil, pain and tears. Never ever let it be said that writers aren’t courageous.

10. the Tribute

Finally, not a quote but I watched this documentary years ago and this final two minutes will always stick in my mind. I’d like to think Walt is out there somewhere and he can see that the vision that started as one man’s dream, is now one shared by the world.

 

All that is left to say is…

Have a Magical Day!!

 

 

Inspiration for Writer’s: How to Get Writing

How to Get Writing and Start that NovelWhen I sat down to plan out my topics for this month, I had to think long and hard about how to finish. There are so many posts I could write about things that inspire me. I’ve barely touched the surface this month – focusing on a few hard hitter such as Pinterest and old childhood heroes – but there is so much more: writing buddies, social media, tv, film, radio, Nanowrimo, the great outdoors, cat videos to name but a few. But in the end I decided to end on a different note. Because here’s the kicker. Just because you are buzzing with inspiration doesn’t mean it’s a straight forward path to creative genius.

I am lucky to have quite a few writer friends who I love discussing our work with. One in particular (who I won’t name because she’ll kill me – complete closet case), we can spend hours (metaphorically) walking around each other’s worlds, playing out whole plots that started the evening as just a writing prompt idea or a photograph or a song. We will get so excited and so damn inspired. We will part ways all pumped up and ready to put those words down on paper. But when either of us go to open a new document, suddenly its gone. It is like someone has poured cold water over my head and, while all that inspiration is still live and crackling inside my brain, my fingers don’t know what to do with it and so the document gets shut and another evening gets wasted on Netflix “research” and pinning until my fingers bleed.

And this is a habit I want to change. No. Scratch that. This is a habit I have to change if I want to achieve my goals, my dreams and that mystical “the end” moment. And it’s a habit I think I share with the great majority of my peers.

So I thought I’d end on a bit of a reflective note. See if I can work out what causing the block and moreover, coming up with some survival tips to clear the faucet and get that inspiration flowing straight onto the page.

What’s the problem?

So… not going to lie, I spent at least half an hour staring at this page musing a simple enough question. If I am

a) inspired;

b) have all these vibrant characters in my head;

c) have the beginnings of a wonderful world; and

d) even have a rough old story line;

Then what is stopping me from turning all that good stuff into a novel? In the end, after I scratched out all the lame excuses (I’m too busy to take on a novel, I’m too focused on a different project right now and I don’t want to confuse my brain, It’s a great story but I’m the wrong writer etc…) I ended up with a shortlist. From that, I whittled it down to two words.

Pressure.

Fear.

We put an extraordinary amount of both of these things on our shoulders as writers. Particularly those of us that are choosing to carve out our own path into the industry. Most of us have the same end game. We want to be authors. We want to be able to give up the day job. We want to walk into a bookshop and see our name on the spine. We want writing to be our career. And that is a hell of a lot of pressure for a few 100,000 words to carry.

My best work happened when I was distracted from this goal. My afore-mentioned unnamed friend, for example, produces their best work during exam season because her brain is so focused on the revision, her fingers just projectile vomit her emotions on the page and when she looks back at it once the storm has passed, she’s often surprised to find a pretty decent story there. My best work happens when I’m either under a lot of stress in a different part of my life (and so writing is actually a place of escape and lack of pressure) and NaNoWriMo. Cue more soul-searching and I came to a simple enough conclusion. I write best, and easiest, when “good” isn’t the target. When I can turn my brain off in that respect. NaNoWriMo, the aim is to finish. Come hell or high water. Even if every word is a single syllable, 50,000 of them still feels like a gold medal at the Olympics. I’m not focusing on the quality of my writing, just on getting that content down there. It other words, the pressures of perfect were lifted. I could just write. I could just take the images in my head and throw them at the page with no care for artistry or perfection, and sure, some of it is unrescuable but some of it is pretty good. Both my major projects started as NaNoWriMo sprint writes.

Lesson One: Just write stories.

Easier said than done. I should know. What I mean by this is there is a distinct difference between writing a story and writing a novel. Writing a novel is about 10% writing and 90% stress. It’s worrying about readerships. It’s being obsessed with themed metaphors and pacing. It’s chapter breaks and “what if everyone hates my lead character”. It is a commercial activity because that is the end game with a novel. To sell it and/or have other people read it. Telling a story is what we did back at primary school when our teacher asked us what we did over summer and we invented an entire holiday to Disney World (or maybe that’s just me). It’s just words. It’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s bottled passion. It’s messy and chaotic and sometimes nonsensical. And it is fearless. There is no craft. No rules. The only endgame is getting to those magic words “the end”. Instead of having that one project that is going to be the bestseller your whole future hinges on that just never seems to get past chapter three, have five or six stories on the go. Chances are you’ll finish a whole lot more of them and play the odds and one of them will turn into the novel you are looking for in the first place.

Lesson Two: To Plot or not To Plot, That is the Question.

Writing a Book summed up by Harry Potter (Image courtesy of tickld.com)

I dedicated a whole post to this a while ago but it’s an important factor in producing word count from ideas. Know what kind of writer you are. Are you a seat of the pants, eyes in a blindfold, living on the edge type who starts with a title and a rough idea of sort of where you’d like it to go and just type? Or are you a meticulous planner who comes out in hives at the idea of committing anything to paper until you have the whole series mapped out? Neither one is wrong. Personally, I’m in group A. My view on plotting is summed up very well by Mr Potter.

Overthinking is a killer for me. I literally get bored with my story before I even start writing it. I need to be surprised by my characters and my story. I love going on that journey with them. And I think that’s why the above mentioned conversations sometimes backfire because I go too deep. Suddenly, I’ve already told the story. I’ve already shared it. I’ve already got my kick out of that. What do I need to waste three years of hair pulling (if I’m lucky) on writing it all down? It’s not the right way to look at it but I can’t help how my brain works. And I’m sure the inverse is true of my planning compatriots.

Lesson Three: Don’t Fall In Love Too Early

Good advice, if you ask me, in all parts of ones life but in this case, I mean in respect to the story. For me, this is the biggest generator of fear. “I love this story. What if I’m not good enough to do it justice?” Those two sentences, in my experience, are the biggest killer of potential stories. The story feels too complex. Or the world feels too big. Or the messages are too important to screw up. Whatever it is, it’s a wall I hit all too often. I have a two prong approach for beating this block.

a) I try not to fall in love with the stories too early on. When an idea comes to me, I start scribbling quickly. Even if it’s a rough-as-guts opening, it’s a start. It’s a commitment before I can scare myself off. That way, as I fall in love with the world and characters, it isn’t a hindrance but an extra shot of caffeine to pump me into writing the story so I can share it.

b) My new mantra for the year…

WRITERS ARE LIKE WINE. WE GET BETTER WITH AGE

This is my safety net. It’s my “it’s okay if it’s awful now. It’s only uphill from here. Things can only get better” and all those good clichés.

Lesson Four: Give Your Will Power a Helping Hand.

AKA Have a plan and stick to it. For my blog (starting this month), it’s my editorial calendar that keeps me on target and reminds me I have no choice but to draft my latest entry despite it being half eleven and I’m cold, sick and have a headache. For my books, I use new years resolutions. They are promises I make to myself. Targets I want to keep. I commit to paper what I want to achieve and lock them away in a drawer to open on December 31st to either celebrate my achievements or… well… we don’t talk about the other option. It’s a tradition I started (to much scepticism from friends and family) last year and guess what? For the first time, come NYE, I’d actually achieved the things I wanted to. This year, I’ve promised myself to complete another NaNoWriMo, send my book to an agent (done), finish the sequel (ahh!) and get myself blogging properly and regularly (work in progress). Tracking your progress is a great way to be much more aware of time and making sure you make some to get done what you want to get done.

So that’s the end of inspiration month. I hope it’s got you as fired up as it has me. As always, stay in touch and let me know how your projects are getting on. Can you believe next week is March already??? Though that means exciting things for me… Here’s a clue to next month’s theme. A certain TV show is coming back next month and I’ve VERY excited for happily ever after 🙂

Inspiration for Writer’s: Just Keep Reading

We all have those reasons that we got into writing. Maybe we were that kid that was bullied at school and so wrote her own endings. Or maybe we just woke up one day with a story in our heads and a need to tell it. Or maybe we have a constant love affair with language. Or maybe we were just determined to actually make use of that English degree. For many of us, it’s a whole ton of them rolled up in one. In my experience, however, there is one common denominator that we all share.

We love books.

I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t also have a love affair with reading. It comes in different forms. Some of us (hands up guilty) consume books like water and don’t feel right unless we have at least three on the go. Some of us are more specific, with a certain genre talking out to us. And some of us even just have that one series that we couldn’t live without.

As I said in my festivals post, we writers have a bit of a stereotype personality. We (tend to be) introverted and quiet. Books are our place of refuge. Our place of escape. Our chance to shed our skins and be someone else for a while.

There is that old saying people love to use, “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you’ve been”. So that is what today is about. Today is about looking back at our beginnings, at the days where we were just readers and remembering what it was back then that inspired us to put pen to paper and a few tips on how to harness that inspiration on the days you need it most.

The Rolemodel

Copy of Inspired with booksWe all have that author. The one that holds a special place in our hearts. The one we secretly (or not so secretly) hope to write as well as one day. The one who can take our breath away no matter whether we are reading them for the first time or the fiftieth.

For me, it’s JK Rowling.

Yes. It’s a cliché for my age and my generation. I am part of the Harry Potter generation and I wear that badge with pride. I was seven years old when the first book came out. At that time, I was a hesitant reader at best. I dreaded the hour in the day at school where we had to read those ghastly stories they write for kids (Biff, Chip and Kipper – see, that’s how much it’s burnt into my brain – why do we do that to our children?). But I had an annoying habit of winning school awards and invariably that always meant that little envelope and therein enclosed, the book voucher.

I still remember stepping into Ottakars (Remember them?) and just walking around a little lost, my feet automatically aiming me towards Enid Blyton and the dear old Secret Seven when this skinny burgundy book caught my eye. On the back was a handdrawn-style picture of this old man in (what my seven-year old self saw as) a long red dress and a long grey beard. I wish I could remember what particularly caught me. What made me take that one to my parents to use up the vouchers. Maybe it was the word ‘wizard’. Or maybe it was the background image of Hogwarts. Or maybe even just the now iconic font. This is all before it hit off. No one really knew about these books yet.

I read that book in two days. And then read it again. And again. And my love affair with fiction started. I’d read my way through most the school library (books designed for kids way older than me) before the end of the school year. My teachers were astounded at the sudden turn around. And I also wrote my first writing project (a HP fanfic – I still have it somewhere).

And even now, I read that book and it sets a fire burning in me. It’s not her best written. It’s not the most complex of stories. It isn’t even a particularly good representation of the world as she explores it with much greater depth in later novels, but that book has a very special place in my heart.

Whenever I am feeling disillusioned with this whole writing lark – this is where I go. I need to be reminded what started me off in the first place. My advice? Don’t be ashamed to go back to your childhood. Don’t feel the pressure of your university lecturer bearing down on your shoulders, expecting you to pick an Austin or a Tolstoy. I roll my eyes sometimes when people tell me that the book that inspired them to write as a kid was some doorstop classic. I’m sorry but no it wasn’t. That might be the book that inspired you to change the way you viewed writing but I refuse to believe that any 11-year-old would have fallen in love with reading after War and Peace.

I am not ashamed to have a full collection of Blyton, Rowling and Lawrence on my bookshelf, just like I am not ashamed to admit I still read them from time to time.

The Masters

This is where Tolstoy belongs. For me, authors on this shelf include (but are by no means limited to) George Orwell, Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Bronte to name just a few as well as more modern writers such as Hugh Howey and John Green. The books these writers produce are beautiful. Not necessarily in story but in craft. I love just sitting back and enjoying the showcase of mastery being laid out ahead of me. These are the books I learn from. These are the books I aspire to write as well as.

Each genre I write, I have a list of authors that I personally think do it right. And those are the books I reach for to inspire me in my own work. Each person will have their own list but here’s a few of mine:

Fantasy: Jim Butcher; JK Rowling (yes, again); GRR Martin; Bram Stoker

Sci-Fi: George Orwell; Hugh Howey; Isaac Asimov; Stephenie Meyer (judge me all you like but I really like The Host); Suzanne Collins (for YA)

Romance: Catherine Alliot; Sebastian Faulks; Marion Keyes; Cecilia Ahern; Phillipa Gregory (historical); John Green

Crime/Legal drama (as you can tell, I’m not a big crime novel reader): John Grisham; David Baldacci; Marco Puzo

Action/Adventure: Clive Cussler; Michael Critchon; Richard Castle (Storm books ONLY); Ian Fleming

Something new

There is nothing I love more that discovering a new book or series to fall in love with. At school I had this thing where I worked across the library from A to Z. If I didn’t like it, I’d return it and move onto the next author. I got to P before I left. It was a great way to discover someone new.

Nowadays, I have a little tradition where every month I choose (completely blindly without looking at reviews) a random free/99p book on Kindle by an author I’ve never heard of them. I’m not going to lie… like 60% are complete disasters or disappointments but every so often, I hit gold. I love those moments. They remind me that one day someone might be doing the same thing on my books. I believe 100% in supporting my other struggling artists so I’m always up for trying new material. What can be more inspiring that reading the product of someone else’s Cinderella story and knowing that sometimes even crazy dreams come true.

In short, my advice can be summarised in three simple words…

Just Keep Reading.

Inspiration for Writer’s: Pinterest

Welcome to inspiration month. After hibernating through January to recover from Christmas (because that’s what it’s there for right?), I’m ready to launch back into the mythical world of writing. Only problem is, I’m a bit rusty. I’m cold, it’s dark outside and that gap between December’s pay cheque and January’s felt like an eternity. My point is, I don’t tend to find this time of year anything other than depressing. Contrary to the postcards, England is not all snow on the hillside and clear skies. It’s torrential rain, seeing your breath in front of you and resigning yourself to not seeing the sun until April.

From a writer’s calendar point of view, it’s a tough time of year. After the frantic sprinting of NaNoWriMo in November and that indescribable joy when you finish only to be quickly replaced by the deep sense of doom when you read it back and realise editing is basically going to involve re-writing the whole thing again in December and January, by the time I get to February, I need something to kick-start my writing mojo and get myself inspired to once again connect pen with paper. And so I thought, what better way of doing that than dedicating this month to a series of posts on getting inspired.

So stage one…

Pinterest Blog

Back in September 2013 (feeling very old right now), I made my Pinterest confession. I’m a serial pinner and it’s an addiction that has only gotten worse over the last few years. I think Pinterest is one of the most powerful tools out there for an author no matter what stage of the journey you are on. For the pro’s, it’s a great way to reach fans and to walk around your own fandoms and just enjoy the love and passion your readers have for the world you created (to me, that’s one of my favourite daydreams, I dream of the day I can look up boards for my own books and see my world through other people’s eyes), for the on-the-climb authors, it’s a great forum to help build a platform and reach more people and readers and for those of us still on the bottom rungs of the ladder, it’s a great place to be inspired.

I use Pinterest in several different ways to inspire different parts of my writer’s brain.

Words from the Wise:

I love collecting quotes and meaningful little snippets from those who I admire and one day hope to emulate. Sometimes all it takes is the few right words from the right person to really spark that fire in the belly and get my butt down in my chair and buzzed to get that word count flying.

       Follow Maxi’s board Quotes and Inspirations on Pinterest.

Writing Tips:

Writing is like wine, we all get better with age. Sometimes that can be incredibly frustrating because I want to skip the whole learning thing and be right at the awesome stage already. While no one can really skip that awkward puberty phase littered with exposition-shaped zits, obsession with writing everything like a melodramatic diary and lest us not forget the dubious dialogue decisions, writing tips can help accelerate the process. I love reading posts on mistakes to watch out for or tips on how to master foreshadowing without tipping your hand (still a bit of a mystical monster to me – I know the theory….). I collect my favourites from across the web and keep them as a reference guide to myself to help me make my writing stronger.

Follow Maxi’s board Tips for Writers on Pinterest.

Story Boards:

Pinterest has a function where you can choose if you want to let a board be public or leave it secret so only you (and people you invite) can view it. I have literal dozens of these secret boards for each of my writing projects. In The Mirror, Darkly alone has over a dozen. You can split it down however you want. I have character boards filled basically with hundreds of images of beautiful people as I define exactly how I want my characters to look. I have place boards. Colour boards. Mood boards. Writing prompts that have triggered tiny new elements to the story. And reference boards for things like guides on period dresses, the biology of dragons and ten ways to kill a man with a pencil… that sort of thing. When I’m feeling out of touch with my worlds, these boards are the first place I go. It’s a brilliant feeling to be able to actually see snippets of your world. For me, it’s my number 1 go to for inspiration.

Other People’s Story Boards:

So, on a Sunday afternoon when I’m chilling having done the housework, drafted three blog posts and written as many words as my brain will allow, there is nothing I like better than to log into Pinterest and search “novel inspiration” and scroll through other people’s boards. I love that ability to step into their worlds, read their comments and piece together little snapshots of the novel in their heads. Most of the time, I come out of it wanting to read the story already. It’s like freestyle reading. Someone else gives you the pieces but you have to create the story in the gaps. I should emphasis, these boards are not about stealing someone else’s ideas as your own. Yes as artists we feed off the things we see but there are lines not to be crossed. I never take ideas from other people’s boards but seeing other stories in mid-process can help spark a few sparks to get me excited to launch into my own project.

Inspiration Boards:

Of these I have around a dozen live and twice that hidden where I’m collecting readying them to go live. I love collecting ideas. It’s the visual version of plot bunnies. I have boards dedicated to written writing prompts (great place to go to breed some of those bunnies if the plot well is running dry) and several dedicated to specific genres. Each picture represents a story I have in my head. I’ll never write them all. But every so often, there’ll be that cosmic moment when a few of them will string together in a pattern I had never considered before and BAM book right there. It’s the Pinterest equivalent of those tumblr posts that end with “write a book already”.

Follow Maxi’s board Story Inspiration: Writing Prompts on Pinterest.

#BeatTheBlock. Tip 1: Keep it varied.

Welcome to my new set of posts dedicated solely to the avoidance and thereafter beating of the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. I am a serial blocker. I allow those two words to stop dead important projects and keep me from reaching deadlines. But today I declare war on this plague on Writer’s Isle. I’m turning the tables. I’m going to #BeatTheBlock.

So today is lesson one. Keep it varied.

There is common advice given to writers to not project jump. That if you do you’ll never finish anything.

Only half true.

We are writers because our brains don’t work like other people’s. They run at a million miles an hour. They live in worlds that don’t exist. They have full and coherent conversations with people that aren’t real. And they consider all of the above completely normal. The above advice is good. It is very true that if you spread yourself too thin you won’t complete anything because… well… time for a start.

But… and it’s a big but… I have found that having only one project can be just as deadly.

As afore mentioned, our brains run at lightning speed. The problem is, our fingers and computers lag somewhat behind. We are typing chapter one while our brain is already plotting the ending. We are only on page fifty and we are already plotting the sequel. So by the time we get to the end, our brain is already onto other projects. Other ideas. If you are anything like me, you only have to go outside and you’ll have half a dozen story ideas before you have time to breathe. And law of averages means, that out of every fifty ideas there are probably a handful that will stick.

My point is, writing a novel takes time. And chances are, after months of your life staring at the same three characters and 500 pages, even you will begin to find your interest waning. And that’s okay. That’s normal. But it is also death to progress. Particularly once you get to editing. That makes me want to poke my eyes out with pokers even when I’m still absolutely in love with my story, but after three or so months of it, I’m quite willing to hate every damn word.

So my advice is this – keep it varied. Have one key project. Give it deadlines, and your main focus. It is your primary priority but don’t be afraid to have other quieter projects simmering in the background. I try to have three project floating around at all times.

1. The Novel

This is the one that is going to go to print and make you a best-selling author and bring you all the acclaim you’ve always wanted. This is going to be the one that is probably in editing or later stage-drafting. And this is the one you are almost certainly going to get stuck on at least once. You are going to get bored with it. You are going to hate it. You are going to think it is awful and a disgrace to the English language. And when you do, you need the space to step away, gain perspective and then come back and realise it was all a dream.

2. The Back-up

I always have to be writing. So once my main project moves into Operation Editing, I start something new to keep me writing. I force my focus to stay on The Novel but when I find myself staring at it endlessly wishing it to the deepest depths of hell, I switch over to The Back-Up. Having an active writing project at all times allows me to remember why I do this in the first place. We are writers. We love writing. So make sure you always have something you can fall back on when you just need to create for a while.

3. The Distraction

Sounds like a bad idea but I always have a silly project. These are short little bursts of stories. Often just 500 word bursts based on writing prompts. Or a 60 page screenplay where I think turning James Bond into a musical will be an interesting writing challenge. Or indulgent fan fiction (we all do it). These are the mini projects where nothing matters. The plot doesn’t have to make sense. The characters can be two-dimensional and dull. You can use as many adverbs as you like. They are Friday night after a few drinks to just relax and unwind after a long week. They are freestyle. This is where you can just let loose. No rules. No restrictions. No pressure. And do you know what? When you aren’t concentrating, you’ll probably develop more skills than you’d ever imagine. And you never know, some of those silly meaningless snippets can be the start of something good.

And so my tip is this…. to #BeatTheBlock Keep It Varied. Don’t be afraid to juggle a few projects. Just remember the Golden Rule. If you are writing, you are making progress. If you are sat staring at a blank page, begging inspiration to strike, you are going nowhere.

Happy 2015!!!

It is that time of year again. The time where we look back at the last 12 months and assess just how little we’ve achieved on that list of things we wanted to do and look forward to the next 12 and once again set ourselves a bunch of targets we have no hope of hitting. I have this tradition where on the 31st of December I sit down and write my resolutions on a piece of paper before putting them in an envelope with the year written on it and put them away. I open them on the 31st of the following year and see how many of them I’ve hit. This year, for the first time, well… ever, I had a chance to smile.

I had four promises I made to myself this year just gone and I actually managed to make them. So I’m going to make 2015 an even better one. 2014 was about writing. It was about completing a NaNoWriMo for the first time in my career (+100,000 in total over the two sessions I did 😀 ). It was about taking some of those ideas that I’ve had cluttering my mind for so long and actually getting them down on paper. I’ve written two books this year. That is something I thought I’d never be able to say. I don’t care if they are rubbish, if the plots have so many holes they look like Swiss cheese or that they’ll will probably never get further than my recycle bin – for me, that is progress. It was about setting up a blog and putting myself out there (and thank you eternally for anyone reading this – you are part of what helped make 2014 such an awesome year). It was about finally learning how the hell Twitter worked and getting my face active on Social Media.

As writers, I think New Year is an important time for us. It is a time to set targets. Not crazy unreachable ones like selling a million copies of a book that hasn’t even got a coherent plot yet. I mean the ones we can do. We have the capability to amaze ourselves when we put our minds to it. So don’t give up chocolate. Don’t give up coffee. And for the sake of your sanity don’t give up alcohol, lord knows us writers need a nice glass of red once in a while. Instead, make promises. Not to mum and dad. Not to your best friend. But to you. Do it for you. Promise to write 2,000 words a week. Or promise to finally set up that Pinterest board full of inspiring images. Or maybe start that blog you’ve always promised yourself you’ll do but never have.

It is so easy to make New Year about looking back and seeing how stuck you are. Most people stay remarkably stationary in their lives. I should know, I’ve done that for enough years. 2014 proved to me that New Year doesn’t have to be like that. Let 2015 be the year that you move forward. When you open that envelope on the 31st of December let it be a tick-list of things you have done. You don’t need to land on Mars or meet the President of America to achieve something. Dieting is over-rated and no one ever actually goes to the gym. Don’t waste your resolutions. Resolutions are the dreams you have the power to make come true.

For me 2015 is going to be about polishing. I have the rough guts, now I want to turn them into something worth standing behind and being proud of. I want to do NaNoWriMo again (this year with the additional bonus of studying for a professional qualification and holding down a 9 hr a day job). I have promised that I will send a manuscript to at least one agent before the ball falls next year. I have promised that I will get my butt on this blog more regularly and post more than once every three months (sorry about that… in my defence, I have moved country, house, changed job and been unwell). And I have promised to write at least 1,000 words a week come hell or high water.

These are promises I can keep. These are promises I will keep. These are small fragments of a bigger dream I am working to make come true.

So Happy New Year!! I hope 2014 was good to you. I hope 2015 will be even better. And I hope that when you open that envelope it is big ticks next to each item. To writers everywhere, let’s make 2015 about progress. Go on. I dare you!!

Maxi xx