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.

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.

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.

5 Ways to Find Beta Readers

What is a beta reader?
Let’s start by defining what a beta reader is, and why they’re so important. A beta reader is someone who reads your book before it’s published and offers constructive criticism. This feedback informs your final run of edits to make your book as good as it can be before publication or submission.

Why do I need beta readers?
Editing and proofing your own work is an almost impossible task. You’re too close to the project, you know what it’s meant to say, and you become blind to its problems and mistakes.

Betas can also read your work as readers would, with a detachment you can never achieve yourself. They’ll pick up on plot holes and typos you’ll overlook. They’ll react to the emotions and tension, be surprised by reveals. They’ll find parts that need clarification, or that move too slowly, characters that don’t work, dialogue that’s unrealistic, things that need more description, or less. They’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t with a perspective you can’t have yourself.

What makes a good beta reader?
Finding beta readers is easy, but finding good beta readers is hard. A good beta reader can be anyone; a reader, a writer, even a close friend or family member. You’ll hear it said that friends and family aren’t good options because they’ll try to save your feelings. This isn’t always the case. If you can trust them to be brutally honest, then they can be just as useful as any other beta.

Because good beta readers do need to be brutally honest. They need to be able to tell you when something isn’t working, when you’ve made a mistake. They also need to offer constructive criticism. “This doesn’t work”, or “this is boring” is no use to you if they don’t explain why. They don’t need to offer up solutions, that’s your job, but they do need to be able to explain their responses.

Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold, so when you do find some, make sure you keep hold of them.

Where can I find beta readers?

  • Ask friends and family. You need to be careful with this option and only choose people you can trust to be brutally honest. Beta readers are no use to you if they’re just being polite not to hurt your feelings.
  • Find reader groups in your genre. Search places like Facebook and GoodReads and you’re sure to find lots of keen readers.
  • Use fellow authors. Again, a search on Facebook or GoodReads will offer up several beta or review exchange groups.
  • Use your network. Post an open call for beta readers on your social networking profiles, and ask people to share.
  • Ask your mailing list subscribers. These are already fans of yours, and many of them will jump at the chance of reading your book before anyone else.

Where else have you found beta readers? What makes a good beta reader for you?

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: I am Not a Serious Writer

Insecure Writer's Support GroupToday is 2017’s first instalment of Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which sees hundreds of writers and bloggers worldwide post about their insecurities, support others with theirs, and offer up advice for overcoming them. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

For this month’s post, IWSG members are talking about the writing advice they wish they’d never heard. There’s so much advice out there about how to write, what to write, where to write, when to write, even what to wear, eat, or listen to while you write. It’s confusing, to say the least.

There is good advice. There is bad advice. And then there is good advice that’s not necessarily good for you. It can be hard to tell the difference, and the only way to do so is by experience.

I’ve always been an advocate of trying something once, but, in the early days, as a new writer, I took the advice of experienced writers as gospel. Worse still, advice from writers I admired became my mantra.

It was such a piece of advice that I wish I’d never heard. It stated that anyone who didn’t write every single day, writing in hours similar to 9-5, treating it like a day job, would never, ever be a serious writer. I fretted for several years over this advice, berating myself for not committing regular and laborious hours to my craft.

I can laugh at such naivety now, but, much like maturing into adulthood, it took me years to realise the most important thing. Everyone works differently. It doesn’t matter if I skip a day or two, or a week, or a month. It doesn’t matter if I write during the day, or at night, or in the short snippets of peace and quiet my young children allow me. It doesn’t matter if I write while hanging upside down from a trapeze. It doesn’t matter, because everyone has to find their own way.

There is good advice. There is bad advice. And then there is good advice that’s not necessarily good for you. Find your own path, and don’t feel guilty because your methods are different to someone else’s. Don’t try to fit in their shoes. Do what works for you.