Blog Hop, Business of Writing, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Twitter, Writing

How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 2)

PlottingAs promised, here is the sequel to How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 1), where I’ll share more about the strategies I use to plot and write my books.

These strategies are the result of several years of practice, of learning from others, of tweaking, honing, and adapting. This didn’t come to me overnight, and, for the last two books I’ve started, the strategy has slightly changed again. It is, and always will be, fluid. I’ll forever be tweaking it, finding new ways that work better, and abandoning others that don’t.

For one thing, I’m never simply working on one book at a time. I always have at least two books on the go, sometimes three. But never at the same stage. A first draft requires me to be fully, and undistractedly, immersed into the world of that book. I only ever write one book at a time. But, I may well be writing one, plotting another, and editing a third.

I break down the book writing process into five basic stages:

  • Plotting
  • Writing
  • Editing (which includes the beta reader stage)
  • Publishing (which includes cover design and formatting)
  • Marketing (which is never-ending)

Writing is the only stage that is sacred and exclusive. One book at a time. But, if I can market all of my books at the same time, I can also work on more than one book in the other stages of book production, right?

Plotting is the section that has seen the biggest changes over the last year or so. This is the place where my strategy will either speed up my production, or slow me down. This is the vital part. I work to a story structure. I’ve looked at loads and loads of these over the years, and they’re basically, by and large, the same, they just call all the different sections different things. They’re not hard to find online. Search, and find one that sits well with you. So, before I even start plotting, I know what my basic structure is going to be. That work is already done for me.

I take my time over this stage. It doesn’t matter if plotting a book takes as long as writing it, because I’m concurrently writing another, so my production is still up. I plot in notebooks, always handwritten, and that notebook goes everywhere with me. For me, this is an important distinction. I plot by hand, I write on my laptop. It keeps the books separate in my head by separating them physically (and allows me to indulge my notebook addiction.)

My plotting notes differ. Some chapters may just be bullet points, and nothing more. Other chapters are almost completely written in my notebook; description, dialogue, everything. As I plot, I am also updating my series bible (or book bible for standalones), where I keep all the vital details that I’ll need to refer back to. Another trick to speed things up. When I move to the writing stage, I can fly through the chapters that are more heavily plotted, stumbling only when I’ve written something like ‘big fight scene here’. (Writing me never thanks plotting me for that one!) The more detailed the plotting notes, the faster the first draft is. And so, I never worry about plotting taking me a long time. While the first draft is my favourite stage, plotting is the most important.

Beyond that, I’m not doing anything special or different. I edit like a snail trying to get blood out of a stone (lots of coffee and cake required), and while my book is with beta readers, I get on with the next one in the chain.

While it may sound like I’m running a book factory, just churning out books, don’t be mistaken by that analogy. Every single book means the world to me, and includes my heart, my soul, my tears, and my blood. They are my babies, and I love every single one dearly. This is just how I work. My head is busting with more book ideas than I could write in my whole lifetime, and they itch in my fingers, keeping me awake at night, until I write them.

Because that’s one important lesson I’ve learnt; creativity attracts creativity. The more I write, the more ideas I have, the more come. While the brain being like a muscle is a tired old cliché, it’s true: the more weight I lift, the stronger it gets, and the more weight I’m able to lift.

But, this is me. This is what works for me, and it’s never going to work for everyone. You need to find your own way, and remember that you’re not in competition with anyone else. It’s not a race. It’s a path that we’re on together, and some people walk it, enjoying the scenery, while others sprint. There are turtles, and there are hares, and any one of us could burn out, retire, or gain ground at any time. Find your speed, find your route. That’s what matters.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Blog Hop, Business of Writing, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Twitter

How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 1)

PlottingI started out as a discovery writer, setting off on the journey of my stories without any kind of plan, and with very little, or even no idea where I was headed. It was exciting, like exploring. It was also slow going, and the editing stage could turn out to be pretty epic. But it worked for me. At least, it did then.

I shunned plotting, scorned it even, insisting that it ‘didn’t work for me’. And I was right, it didn’t. At least, not then. In fact, there was one year that I decided to hit November’s NaNoWriMo event with a fully plotted novel. I worked on it throughout October, and faced November 1st with confidence. I had a map for my journey, I knew where I was going. But, once I had hit around 15,000 words, the characters took over, and pulled the story off in a direction completely unrecognisable from my plan. All I could think, was that I’d wasted an entire month plotting, only to end up with a completely different story.

In 2015, I started publishing. I started up my own imprint, purchased a pack of ISBNs, and suddenly, writing wasn’t just a hobby anymore. And I had to get serious about it.

I started out publishing two books a year. It took me, from conception, to hitting publish, 6 months to produce a book. But the more I learnt about the business of indie publishing, the more I realised the benefits of upping production. And I know indie authors who are releasing a book every month. Over the last two years, I’ve gone from publishing two books a year, to publishing four.

I’ve had a lot of writers asking me how I do it recently. I’ve had people call me ‘lucky’ to be capable of it, for being a fast writer. But, you know what? I’m not a particularly fast writer. I’m just a hard-working writer. And it has nothing to do with luck.

But people don’t see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. They don’t see the sacrifices, the lost sleep, the stress to hit pre-order deadlines. They don’t see the work I’ve done on honing my skills, on tweaking my approach, all the experimentation it took to find the perfect formula for me. They don’t see the daily 5am wake-ups, or the notebook balanced on my knee whenever I sit down, no matter where I am.

I have a very specific strategy in place that really has taken a long time to perfect. But it works for me, at least, it does at the moment. Because that’s the thing with writing; a strategy that works for me now, might not do so in five years. It’s all about being adaptable, about being willing to try new things, being open to changing things up.

This blog post is pretty long already, so I’ll write a second one explaining my strategy, showing how I mange to write and publish four books a year. Check out How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 2)

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Business of Writing, Twitter

5 Ways to Boost Motivation when You’re in a Slump

Improvised Garden Office
Today, I’m improvising!

You know that feeling when things are going well: everything’s in harmony, your work is flowing, your sales are looking healthy, and it feels like everything has finally fallen into place. That this is it; the success you’ve been working so hard for. If only we could bottle that feeling. That energy. That motivation. Because it’s not always available in such abundance.

Running your own business is full of ups and downs. There will be times when jobs are scarce, money isn’t coming in, and you feel at odds with everything. And those are the times when your motivation can disappear altogether. When inaction can become a habit. When the idea of binge-watching old TV shows is far more appealing than another day staring at a computer.

Where’s that bottle of energy when you need it?

But there are ways to keep your motivation up. To keep pushing, and striving, and to keep hold of the joy of doing something that you love (even if it doesn’t feel like it loves you back right now!)

Remember Your Goals

There’s a reason you started your business. Probably lots of reasons, and now is the time to remind yourself of them. There was a reason you were excited about it, and now is the time to get that excitement back.

So, remind yourself of your goals. Your ‘whys’. Make a vision board, write a bucket list, create a meditation, whatever method works for you. Make note of your short-term goals, your mid-term goals, and your long-term goals. Even those that seem like pipe dreams. The holiday homes, the sports cars, the fame, the awards, remember those goals. Because, once upon a time, they seemed like pipe dreams to someone else. Someone who achieved them.

Think about what originally got you excited about your business. Ponder it, meditate on it, look back at old social media posts, put yourself back in that moment. Rediscover that same excitement.

Outsource and Collaborate

Have you ever noticed how you laugh more when you watch comedy with other people, rather than on your own? Life is much more fun when others come along for the ride. Excitement is contagious.

Why not outsource the aspects of your business that you don’t enjoy, or that aren’t your natural strength? Not only will it free you up to do more of what you do enjoy, and what you’re good at, but you’ll get new input into things. Other people bring new ideas, fresh perspectives, and a freelancer comes with a detachment from your business that you can’t achieve yourself. They can look at it differently, more critically, and really help with refreshing the way you see it.

Or find other people to collaborate with. Be it sharing a market stall, swapping blog posts, featuring in one another’s newsletters, or working on a new project together. Again, you’re bringing in those new ideas, those fresh perspectives, and another energy, one that may be exactly what you need to boost your own.

Get Creative

It can be very easy to get wrapped up inside your own head. With all those numbers, and to-do lists, deadlines, and strategies floating, jumbled, around in your brain. So, let’s leave all the business of business aside for a moment. Let’s do something creative, and open up the part of you that’s designed for dreaming, for empathy, for living in the moment.

You may already have a creative hobby; painting, knitting, dressmaking, or even just a colouring book. If your business is creative already, try a different medium or discipline. Try something new. Learn something new. Or you could spend some time designing flyers, or advertising banners, or making attractive graphics for social media. Dance. Sing. Go for a nature walk and make a collage from the leaves you pick up. Grab some marker pens, some post-it notes, some revision cards, and layout a new marketing plan across the floor. Just get moving, get creative, get out of your comfort zone.

Change Your View

Bored of staring at the same four walls? They say that a change is as good as a holiday, and they’re not wrong. Try working in a different part of your house, or work out in your garden. Even just rearranging and sprucing up your workspace can help you feel refreshed. Paint your desk, change the decor, buy a new houseplant. It’s amazing how much a spring clean can also be a spring clean for your mindset.

Or take your work out with you. Work at the park, at a coffee shop, at the library. Rent some office space, even if it’s just for a little while. Home office swap with a friend.

Say Hello (in real life)

Get out of the office, and go and speak to some real life people. Being an entrepreneur can be incredibly lonely, and, however much you love your own company, it’s nice to connect with others too.

Go to a local networking event or convention, join a book club, go for coffee with a friend. Just get out of the office, out of your head, and get socialising. You could make new friends, new business contacts, find your tribe, and even—gasp—have fun doing it!

With a mix of focussing on your whys, and refreshing your outlook, you could have your motivation back and be raring to go in no time.

Those are my top tips for boosting lagging motivation levels, what’s your top tip?

Blog Hop, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Twitter

The Importance of Habit

WritingLast month I didn’t write anything new. May came in off the back of April’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and it was a month of editing, plotting, book releases, and marketing. I wrote nothing new.

June came, and I duly sat down to write, to create, and I found myself empty.

Getting words out of me was like torture, it hurt, and I found myself stopping after just a couple of paragraphs, too frustrated and exhausted to continue. It felt like it might actually kill me. Slowly. One unwritten word by another.

I needed to rediscover the fire, the passion, the creativity that had, evidently, buried itself so deep inside me that I couldn’t find even a hint of it. After taking advice from my peers, I turned back to a tactic I’ve used before. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself, but, sometimes, you need someone else to tell you. It’s not always so simple to take your own advice.

I began reading what I’d already written during April, from the beginning, gently editing as I went. That’s where my mojo was. Not in the air, in the clouds, not in words I hadn’t even thought of yet, it was in the solidity of what was already penned. It took just two chapters. And then I was ready to go. The story came flowing.

So, that’s my lesson learnt. I can’t take a month off. I need to write, every day, even if it’s something that will never come to anything. Creativity can dry up, albeit temporarily, but it’s far better to keep it burning.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Musings, Twitter, Writing

The Lights that Dazzled

Since I was old enough to talk, I used to say that I wanted to become ‘an actress that sings’, or so my mother tells me. I’m sure it didn’t come as a huge surprise; my grandmother was a singer and an actress (as well as a writer and artist), so it was already in the family. And my parents set about helping me to pursue my dream with gusto.

Despite being the middle of five children, and my parents barely scraping by financially, I was sent to a string of ballet lessons, tap, jazz dancing, drama classes, and years and years of singing lessons. I dread to think what my parents had to give up to pay for them. That’s a debt I hope I can repay, somehow, someday, but it’s one that currently weighs heavy with guilt.

I spent so much of my childhood on the stage, completed my Drama GCSE, my Theatre Studies A-Level, and went on to university to gain a BA Hons Degree in Drama and Writing. And this was when everything changed for me.

In my graduation gown

There had always been things about theatre, about performing, that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like rehearsing, I hated learning lines. Technical and dress rehearsals were like torture. I also suffered, and still do, from almost crippling stage fright. Every time I performed, my mind went blank as I stood backstage, ready to enter. I’d step out into the lights, squinting in their brightness, my heart pounding at the sight of the shadowy figures filling the auditorium, and, even then, I wouldn’t be able to remember my first line. Somehow, thankfully, it always came out as I opened my mouth.

But my heart didn’t stop racing, my palms didn’t stop sweating, my legs didn’t stop shaking, until several hours after the performance had finished. And then the buzz hit. The absolute high of achievement. That’s why I did it. That’s what I loved.

But university wasn’t all I imagined it to be. I was living my dream, studying the subject I loved, yet it wasn’t making me happy. University was emotional, and confusing, and, for a girl who grew up in a very small country town, the social aspect was an absolute minefield. I spent three years treading carefully, and screwing up at every opportunity. And I didn’t know how to fix it, because I had no idea who I was, or how I fitted into the world. That’s something that would take me another ten years to come anywhere close to grasping.

Performing, acting, was a huge part of who I was. My identity was pinned on it. It’s all I’d ever aimed for in life, everything I’d always been working towards. And I suddenly found myself realising that this was not what I wanted to do with my life. It was strange letting that go. It was partly a huge relief, a lifting of a burden I hadn’t even realised wasn’t mine to carry. But it also left me identity-less. And for someone struggling to find their place in the world already, losing the one solid piece of identity I did have, it was massive.

As my degree progressed, I let the drama slide a little, I didn’t care as much, didn’t give it my all. It was the writing part that I loved. And I realised: I didn’t want to be on stage speaking someone else’s words, being someone else’s character, I wanted to be writing them myself. I wanted to sit at the back of a darkened auditorium and watch people speaking my words. I watched my classmates relish their time on stage, while, for me, it became a chore.

Back then, the publishing world wasn’t what it is today. I’d barely heard of Amazon, and self-publishing didn’t really exist at all. It would be another decade before the first Kindle came on sale. Becoming an author was, by and large, an unattainable dream. Of course, all of that was going to change.

Geekery and Creepery, Musings, Twitter

In the Footsteps of Bram Stoker

I spent last weekend with my family in Whitby, up on the Yorkshire coast. It was a birthday present for my husband, who turned 30 this month. We used to visit Whitby in the days before we had children, and it was a wonderful weekend full of nostalgia and unhealthy food.

It was also a weekend full of literary delights. Whitby has an important literary history, more of one than I had even realised, so it turns out!

Whitby, and more specifically, it’s abbey that sits, in ruins, above the town and the sea, is the spot that inspired Bram Stoker to write his famous book Dracula. He spent six years living in Whitby, taking walks each morning, looking over at the abbey, the 199 steps leading up to it, and watching the cargo boats coming in and out of the bay. Enter Dracula. I just had to seek out the sights, walk where he walked.

 

While I was looking for the location of the blue plaque that marked Bram Stoker’s history in Whitby, I stumbled across evidence of another literary visitor to the town. Apparently, before Stoker came here, Lewis Carroll, creator of Alice and Wonderland, was a regular visitor to Whitby. He stayed here six times, in a building that overlooks the same abbey that later inspired Bram Stoker to put pen to paper.

 

And then we found a second plaque for Mr Stoker. Well, I had to sit here and ponder the view for a while. Did it inspire me to write? Frankly, this entire town does. It’s brimming with history, all wrapped up in fascinating little backstreets of crooked houses crammed against one another. I’d quite forgotten how much I love this place.

A bench looking at the view that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula
Me sat looking at the view that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula

 

The guesthouse in which Bram Stoker stayed, is actually still a guesthouse today. You can rent his room, which has been restored to Victorian grandeur. Yes, I am planning to stay there. A writing retreat, I think. Watch this space!

When it came time to, sadly, bid farewell to Whitby, we drove onto the historic city of York for the day, where another literary delight awaited us!

A Harry Potter shop called The Shop That Must Not Be Named