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.

Business of Writing, Thursday Thoughts, Twitter

They’re Not Always Right, You’re Not Always Wrong

ReaderWe all need advice, a helping hand, a guide. And that’s when we can turn to someone with more experience, who’s been there and done it, so that, hopefully, we can avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls.

Whether you’re just starting out, or already seasoned in publishing, there’s always more to learn. Technology and the internet changes so rapidly, and strategies that worked yesterday, don’t always work today. As authors, we can never stop learning and adapting. But with that, comes the feeling that we’re still inexperienced, still naive, just stumbling blindly along the path, and it can be all too easy to follow those ahead of you, blindly, assuming they know exactly where they’re going.

These people, and their advice, aren’t difficult to find. There are countless podcasts and blogs and books covering just about every aspect of writing, publishing, and book marketing you can imagine, and even some that you hadn’t yet thought of.

For the most part, they know exactly where they’re going, and you can happily follow them. But it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes, their destination might be different to yours, or, even if it’s the same destination, their route might be different to the one you wanted to take. And occassionally, you’ll meet one of those people who speak with absolute assuredness, but they’re actually completely lost.

So, how can you tell the difference? How do you know when to follow, and when to make your own path?

For one, trust your instincts. Will they always be right? No. But if you stay true to yourself, and to the kind of author you want to be, you can’t go too far wrong.

And second, don’t be scared to make mistakes. We all do. All the experts have too. And we learn far more, and far quicker from our own mistakes than we do from other people’s. No one has a flawless journey, there will be roadblocks and detours, dead ends and circular routes, but if you remember where you want to go, you can find your way back.

Always stay open to advice, to trying new things, to being persuaded and changing your mind. Always. But listen to your gut too. You’re a lot smarter than you realise.

Business of Writing, Twitter

Warts and All (Why You Should be Real with Your Readers)

BooksWe’ve all experienced it: posting something on social media, and receiving a comment along the lines of ‘great pic, check out my profile’. Sometimes it’s painfully clear that they’ve not read your post, or even looked at the image, they’ve simply addressed you because of your hashtags and content. It’s not engaging, it’s not interesting, and it certainly doesn’t inspire you to check out their content, let alone buy their services or products.

And the reason is simple: people like to be treated as people. They like to be spoken to as a person, by a person. And you are a person, don’t let that get lost under marketing.

Imagine meeting someone for the first time, and the conversation going like this:

“Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Buy my book.”
“Oh, so you’re an author are you?”
“Buy my book.”
“That must be an interesting job.”
“Buy my book.”

You’d give up on that pretty quickly, wouldn’t you? It’s annoying, it’s intrusive, and it shows your readers one thing; that you don’t care about them.

When I was young, the only way I could find out about my idols was interviews in magazines. But we live in an amazing time now that we can chat with the people we admire. They’re no longer out of reach, so far above us on their pedestals that they can neither hear nor see us. It’s amazing for fans, but it’s amazing for writers too. We can connect with our readers, and engage with them on a friendship-like level.

I know a lot of writers struggle with what to post on social media. Set your rules. Whether that be no pictures of my children, no pictures to identify where I live. That’s fine, we all have a right to our privacy and security. But beyond that, go for it. Show your readers who you are. Show them you doing yoga in the morning. I bet some of your readers do yoga too. Show them you walking your dog. I bet several of them have dogs. Show them you browsing books in a library, finding a charity shop bargain, eating fish and chips from the wrapper, your favourite reading chair, a miserable rainy afternoon, your huge coffee mug, your fluffy slippers, your secret chocolate stash. These are the things your readers will relate to.

Show yourself as someone they want to be friends with.

Because, if they like you, if they’re interested in you, when you say, “by the way, I have a new book out if you want to take a look”, they actually will. And it’s not hard, there’s no big secret. All you have to do is be your own wonderful self.

Business of Writing, Twitter

Lessons I Learnt from Writing my First Book Series

BooksComing to the end of my first series, and starting on my second got me thinking about what I wanted to do differently. About the mistakes I made, and the lessons I learnt.

Start Your Series Bible While You’re Plotting

I definitely learnt this the hard way. I started my series bible while I was writing book 3. I’ve never finished it. I spent much of my writing time flicking through the previous books looking up character names and fact checking. Having my series bible would have been so much easier.

You won’t remember side character names, or which side of your main character’s nose has the scar, or what they ate for breakfast that morning. Start your series bible right at the beginning, and keep it up to date throughout.

Plot Subsequent Books Before Writing the First

One word: foreshadowing. I had a lot of happy accidents with my first series, but it would have been great to have been able to purposefully place things that would be used in subsequent books. It links them together (and makes you look clever).

Knowing how the series ends before you start writing it allows you to place hints and little reveals along the way. It keeps you focussed, and keeps your characters focussed, and just makes for a tighter, more coherent series.

Release in Quick Succession (no one cares about an unfinished series)

Marketing your books is tough when your series is unfinished. There’s so much I’ve put off until the last book’s released. And I really feel for those quick readers, the ones reading a book a day, unable to complete the story. I worry that I might lose them in the wait between books. Many readers won’t even start a series until it’s finished.

I’m not the fastest writer, and I’ve managed to get the time it takes to produce a book, from plotting to release, down to around six to nine months, but I’d like to get it down even more. Pre-plotting all the books is a good start, allowing me to jump into writing book 2 the second book 1 goes off to betas.

Retain Your Beta Readers (but accept that you’ll likely lose some)

Picking up new beta readers part way through a series brings its own issues: do you send them the previous books and wait that much longer while they read them all, or get their opinion of it as a standalone? It could give an interesting perspective, but where do you find beta readers happy to read a random book from the middle of a series they don’t know?

Far better to recruit a good number at the start, understanding that you’re likely to lose some along the way, and keep hold of them throughout. After all, good beta readers are like gold dust, and you should be keeping them close regardless.

Outsource What You Can (and use the same suppliers)

Writing and publishing a whole series is a huge undertaking, and if you are aiming to publish in rapid succession, there’s a load of stuff you can outsource to save yourself the time and effort: editing, proofreading, formatting, blurb writing, cover design, marketing. Of course, we don’t all have endless budgets for this, so outsource what you can’t do yourself.

With a series, consistency is key. You want loyal readers to know at a glance which books are in the same series. Just as you wouldn’t change the main character’s name after book 2, where you can, use the same suppliers. You know what you’re getting, and, hopefully, there won’t be any surprises to deal with.