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.

Blog Hop, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Twitter

You Don’t Need Socks to Write!

You Don't Need Socks to WriteOne morning, I was desperately trying to get my five year old to do his homework, and he, as usual, was coming up with every excuse he could think of, ending with “I need my socks on.”

“You don’t need socks to write!” I replied, chalking it down as yet another one of those sentences I never imagined I’d ever have to say to another human being. But it got me thinking, and, actually, it’s very good writing advice.

Some people wait for the perfect conditions to write. Whether that be an active muse, a quiet house, a private space, the right weather, the moon in their star sign, whatever their particulars are. I’ve done it myself. Put off writing because I didn’t feel right, or the house was noisy, or the table was messy.

The truth is, as with most things, there is no perfect time, and if you sit around waiting for this magical moment, you’ll never write a word. Sometimes, you just need to sit down (or perch somewhere, or stand, or whatever) and get some words out of you. They may not be perfect words, they may not be any good at all, but the more that come, the better they will get. Who was it who said you can’t edit a blank page?

So don’t fret over the particulars; don’t worry if the sun isn’t right, or your chair is a little uncomfortable, or your coffee is a little cold, just write. Get some words out. Wonderful, imperfect, foolish, misspelt words. And remember: you don’t need socks to write.

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, Monday Motivation, Twitter

Feeling Determined vs Being Determined (How I Got More Hours in the Day)

Monday MotivationI’ve felt determined for a long time. Years and years. But despite my burning sense of determination, I just wasn’t managing to get things done. There was always something conspiring against me. I was too busy with the kids, or I didn’t have somewhere quiet to write, or the muse just wasn’t with me. I was a victim of circumstance. I wanted to do it, but there was too much against me.

I wailed about it on social media, grumbling about how blessed other people were with their writing nooks, their school-age children, their luxury of free time when I had none. They were lucky. I, however, was not.

It has taken a long time, a good number of pep talks, and a whole load of failure for me to finally figure out my problem. There is a difference between feeling determined and being determined. And the difference is action.

There’s no big secret here, no grand revelation, and there is definitely no luck involved. It’s about changing your mindset. It’s taken me years, and I feel so foolish for taking so long to realise it. Feeling determined is not being determined. I’ve only just come to understand that.

Last year, something clicked. And, you know what? Over the last few months I have not stopped. Not for a second. I am constantly on the go. Insanely busy. But it’s productive busy, happy busy, exciting busy.

The old me was busy too. But that was I-don’t-have-time-for-this busy. That was not even trying to write because I knew my toddler wouldn’t grant me anything close to an hour of peace and quiet. That was thinking anything less wasn’t worth the bother. That was feeling determined.

New me writes two sentences on the way back from the toilet. New me types while she’s eating lunch. New me takes a notebook and pen to toddler groups. New me writes like the wind while her toddler naps because he might sleep for four hours, or four minutes. New me doesn’t wait for the muse. New me grabs her by the throat and says “Now!” And sometimes the words flow, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, and sometimes it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written. But I do it anyway. That’s being determined.

I’ve recently started setting a 5am alarm. I get up and write while the kids are still asleep. When I posted about it on social media, I got a number of people telling me I was ‘lucky’ to get an hour of peace and quiet in the morning. I smiled at that. That’s what I used to say to other people. But it’s not luck. It’s getting up at 5am. It’s not waiting for my muse to show up. It’s writing while the kettle’s still boiling. It’s getting words down no matter what. Because some mornings I do get an hour before my boys get up. Other mornings I get two minutes. But two productive minutes are better than ten minutes of waiting for the perfect moment.

It’s not luck. It’s being determined.

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

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

ReaderWhen I first started to take writing seriously, I was weighed down by a lot of advice I read from professional writers that I admired. Advice along the lines of ‘you have to write every day’, ‘make daily writing a habit’, and ‘you have to treat it like a job: show up every day’.

I was so disheartened every day that I didn’t write, I got so bogged down by feelings of futility and failure that I almost gave up writing altogether.

It took me some time to realise that not every bit of advice, even if it was, fundamentally, good advice, was going to work for me. You have to find your own way, and it may be different to everyone else’s, but if it gets words on the page, stick with it.

I recently came across another guilt-inducing quote online, something like ‘a professional is someone who does it even when he doesn’t feel like it’. I can see the truth in it, and the admirable commitment, but also the finger pointing, the presumption, and the potential harmfulness. I say a professional is someone who finds their own way, and then totally rocks it.

Writing is so involved, we all know that. Your head, your heart, your soul, it’s all poured in. And it can be exhausting, and draining, and confusing, and heavy-going. And you do need to take a break sometimes. Because you need to look after yourself.

If you need a day off writing, do it. If you want to go for a walk, or watch trashy TV, or read a book, or eat cake, or whatever you need to sort your head out, do it. Your writing will still be there tomorrow. And don’t feel guilty for it, don’t feel like you’ve failed. Because your writing needs you to be healthy. If you want to write well, you need to look after yourself as well as the words.

Often, a day off will bring you back to writing refreshed and ready to go. Do what you need to get words on the page, and if that means the odd day off to recharge, to clear your head, do it. And don’t feel bad for it.

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

How to Turn a NaNoWriMo Loss into a Long-Term Win

NaNoWriMo Participant 2017So here we are in November, and a whole load of overly optimistic (or overly crazy) writers around the world are heads down writing like mad for NaNoWriMo. Chances are you know lots of people doing it, but if you don’t know what it is, National Novel Writing Month challenges you to write a 50k word novel in just 30 days. Yes, you have to be a little bit crazy to try it.

I’ve been that crazy six times already. But I’ve only hit that magical 50k three times (since having children, I’ve not managed to come anywhere close!)

As many people as you know doing NaNoWriMo, you’ll probably know just as many who decry it as a joke. An event that promotes terrible writing (by encouraging quantity of words over quality). And they’re right. It is more than likely that your NaNo novel will be terrible. As all first drafts usually are (especially when written in a caffeine-fuelled blur of just 30 days). But what does that matter? Your first draft never sees the light of day.

Many, probably most, NaNo novels will never find their way through to publication, and are destined to languish on hard drives, abandoned and forgotten. But there is light at the end of the literary tunnel here. Let me tell you about one of my NaNo stories.

In 2011, I hit NaNoWriMo with a story called The Bottle Stopper. It was about a little girl, eight years old, living in the care of her abusive uncle. She was blind, because he had blinded her. She worked in the back of his apothecary shop, bottling his ‘miracle medicine’, which was, in actual fact, nothing more than river water and a sprig of lavender. I won that year, penned 50k words. 50k awful words. 50k words that sat on my hard drive for years.

In October 2015, I published The Bottle Stopper. It certainly wasn’t the 2011 version, nor was it any of the other three versions that had followed. It’s still about a girl, but she’s 17 now, and she can see perfectly well. The abusive uncle is still there, and she still bottles his medicine. Beyond that, it bears very little relation to the original.

But that idea, those characters, and that conflict carried through to the book as it is today. It may have taken another four years, but that book was finished, and published. It also contained a whole supporting cast of characters rescued from other unfinished books (some of which were written for NaNo). The Bottle Stopper is the first book of The Paper Duchess quadrilogy.

So what I’m saying is this: a good idea never dies. Even if your NaNo novel is utter trash, the ideas are salvageable. The characters can be resurrected. And the story can still be played out. Some day. And my terrible NaNo novel evolved into an entire series. So a loss at NaNo doesn’t need to be a loss forever. It can, in time, become a great big win.

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.