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Return of the Writer

Once again, ladies and gents, you have my apologies. I had hoped to get back into the swing of things long before now but the book took a lot more out of me than I first thought. I really needed some time to recover – mentally more than anything – and to be able to look at all three books with a fresh mind.

Now, I feel like I’m finally at that stage. Oh, and I like puns. You should know this by now (and in case you didn’t get it – shame on you – that’s a Star Wars reference at the top. Can’t believe I explained that).

I’ve not been sitting idly by, however. Some things have been going on. So, my friends, join me on what, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a riveting tale. Maybe. Possibly. Okay, probably not but bear with me.

Where have I been?

I’ve been here and there, keeping busy without exhausting myself further. Or trying not to. I tried reading but that was a little too close to home and I found that even gaming wasn’t as appealing as I’d thought it would be. I did keep up with swimming, other than last week where I had other exercise plans (dodgeball – don’t ask but I do have a medal!). Hell, I even tried quitting smoking.

The one thing that is worth noting is that over the last couple of weeks is that it was the fifth Manchester Children’s Book Festival. I’ve volunteered at every single one to date and this year was no exception, although following the pattern of the previous two, I’m not as involved as previously but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it all the same.

It’s fantastic to see so many children getting involved with reading, writing, performances and much more – anything creative and wacky! It’s been a pleasure to see the festival grow since 2010 and I’m looking forward to next year already.

Expect a more detailed post on this in two weeks. I wouldn’t want to break tradition now, would I?

Finding motivation

One thing that I think has been really lacking for me is motivation. Since finishing the first draft of the most recent novel, I’ve been finding it hard to come back – for whatever reason. Life can work for or against us and we subconsciously associate that with actions, activities, emotions and such. I think when I’m not happy with something big in my life, it stops me from wanting to write as I feel that should be fixed first.

It doesn’t apply all the time but it does have an impact.

I also had a conversation with a friend about writer’s block, which I’m still not convinced actually exists as a thing but yet I’ve yet to encounter a writer who hasn’t used this term when they struggle. That seems to be more to do with ease – we all understand it, from varying sources – so it doesn’t need explanation. Despite that, why is it a thing and is it only a thing because we make it so? I don’t think I’ve had writer’s block as I write at work and generally. Hey, I’m writing a blog post right now! It’s an interesting thought, though.

Actually, I think this is a topic for a full blog post next month. Look out for that!

Putting together a plan

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other
My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have three projects to edit. The novella is first up, and I’ll be starting that at the weekend. I like it’s length but the ‘professional’ feedback (from agents and publishers) suggest it would work better as a novel. I’ll decide that as I go through the draft but I’m not convinced yet. There are other things that need to be fixed, however.

After that, I’ll start on one of the novels. The sci-fi project is up first, as it’s more recent and I think it needs less work. The story is well rounded, it just needs to be padded out in places, with a few more explanations and sub plots, supported by a little character development. That might sound a lot, but it won’t be as bad as you might think. Of course, after that comes the nit-picking of later drafts.

Finally, I’ll work on the fantasy novel. That needs a fair bit adding to it for me to be happy. The good thing is, I know what to add, the big question is where it should go. I have some ideas but the edit will help identify weaker areas and the plot holes that I know exist.

If I can get all that done over summer, I MIGHT just have one ready to send out by the end of the year.

If I’m lucky.

It’s time to…edit!

I hoped to post this last week but, according to my schedule, there are still two weeks until the next post so I’m safe (the glory of a five-week month) for now. I teased previously about why I’ve been so quiet lately, with a lot of things on the go and now I’m finally ready to show you what I’ve been working on.

So, here are my three babies manuscripts. Aren’t they pretty…?

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other
My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

What are they?

From left to right, there’s a novella in third draft, a novel in first draft and another novel in first draft (yes, that’s a long way of saying it but I’m enjoying my words. Hush). I feel like it shouldn’t have taken this long to get this far but then I remembered life easily gets in the way. That’s a whole different topic.

I hope they’re all published one day, obviously, but I’m proud of reaching this stage. I’ve covered fiction, fantasy and science fiction (in that order, respectively) so not completely in my comfort zone but trying something new is always harder than anything else. Maybe that’s why it’s only a novella right now, but who knows what could happen.

If you want to read them – tough! They’re not ready yet but when I’m looking for readers, I’ll let you know.

What’s next?

Editing! The novels are only in first draft and need a fair bit of work. There are plenty of inaccuracies and continuity errors – and that’s not counting the grammatical issues. Who said writing was easy? Then again, I like a challenge. I’ll distract myself with redrafting some short stories in between as there are plenty of competitions to enter. When I find them, I’ll put them up here as normal.

Blogging resumes as normal (I promise) in two weeks. Updates on the editing will come as and when there is something to report. Until next time!

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

After my first swimming session
After my first swimming session

I remember – a long, long, loooooooooong time ago – that I used to be physically fit. I could run for more than ten seconds before running out of breath. I could push myself to do more rather than just get up the stairs. I used to enjoy it.

I used to want to write a hell of a lot more than I do now.

Now, hear me out. I haven’t lost my will or love of writing over the years (although…there have been days…) but I had a lot more stories to tell. My mind would run free and come up with some truly crazy shit, even when I was completely knackered. In fact, sometimes those were the best times to be creative. Then, like now, the hardest thing was finding the time to sit down and get on with it. Only this time, the reasons have changed.

I think exercise is important to a person’s wellbeing but also to a writer’s creativity. I have no proof – though this is the internet, so I’m sure you can find some if you want – this is all from my own experience.

The old days

So, some context.

Back in my younger days, I played basketball at school, and then beyond. I trained four-to-five nights a week, volunteered with the Youth Service, worked, studied and tried to write. It was hard, very hard.

One thing I was never short of was ideas. Inspiration came easily, just not the time to put those words to paper (or screen, for the pedantic among you). I was always busy, and I had a social life. They were simpler days, happy days and that makes a huge difference. As a writer, I draw upon a range of emotions to propel readers through my stories, whether long or short. Happiness is a key part of that – and teenage angst can only take you so far.

Without basketball – or a form of exercise in general – I wouldn’t have had that balance. I was too young to realise it then but looking back now, I’m glad I had it.

The in-between years

Whether through illness or injury doesn’t matter but I stopped playing and training. I replaced it with bar work – and in general jobs that kept me running around a lot so I was getting some exercise. Not only that, I walked everywhere.

I kept this up through university. I had every intention of packing in smoking and joining one of the sport societies but like all best laid plans – it didn’t happen.

I convinced myself that since I was young-ish, my metabolism was high and I had other ways to exercise, I’d be okay. One day I’d sort it. Besides that, my studies kept me writing. Not what I wanted but I was determined to finish this degree and get a good result. Since graduating, I had other priorities (finding a job, mainly) and now, I am trying to balance work, a social life and travelling time with writing.

I ended up with a desk job, public transport and plenty of cigarettes smoked each day (but not as many as others) so, yeah, I had lost the physical exercise. Over the years during university and beyond, this has had a knock on effect. I don’t feel physically worn out, no matter how tired I am mentally. When I do sit to write, I get itchy feet and have to move about quite a lot. It’s hard to find that balance. I knew then that something had to change.

And now, I’ve started swimming

The key word is ‘started’ as I’ve only just (literally) finished my second session. I could barely get through 22 lengths in an hour in the first session but I doubled that tonight. Not for one moment do I expect another jump like that next time but I can already see the difference – see the picture above of how I looked after the first swim last week!

I have to be careful as to what exercise I do. My knees are dodgy and swimming isn’t weight bearing. There’s still a burn but it’s better for me than running, I think. Maybe one day, I’ll try that. Oh, and I’m trying to get rid of the cigarettes. That’s helping too.

Through all that, I can feel the ideas returning. That can only be a good thing – I just need to balance the rest of my free time to make use of it.

Keep an eye on this space!

What’s the Deal with Word Counts?

Size does matter when it comes to these books!
Size does matter when it comes to these books!

Word counts. In school, we were told to do a page or two for our assignments. In university, it ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 usually (not counting the dissertation) but there seems to be a much more vague answer surrounding novels.

Over the years, novels seem to have gotten longer. It’s a strange sight; books are getting longer yet web content, which is a huge part of the digital space, is getting shorter – and being portrayed in even shorter paragraphs. The contrast here is interesting and e-books sit somewhere in the middle, not favouring one side over the other – although an e-book doesn’t have to be viewed online, it can be.

As a writer, project lengths can be a bit daunting, as well as throwing up some barriers to completing a project. I figured this was a good time to take a look at a few.

Does size really matter?

Let’s avoid the elephant in the room here and stick to the topic at hand (yes, I know what you were thinking – get that mind out of the gutter!) because there is no simple answer to this, even though it may look like it on the surface.

Is it worth writing more and more just to hit a word count that you or someone else has said? You run the risk of waffling; creating sections that have no relevance and will only serve to put readers off. Do that and your story may never be finished – and it can happen the same way with writing.

So, if you’re writing a story that goes on and on and on, is it worth breaking it down in the planning stage so you know what you’re writing and where each part ends, or should you write it and break it later? That comes down to personal choice, if I’m honest.

What matters more than a word count is quality writing and story-telling. The publishers may tell you differently, that they’re looking for certain things but then, what about self-publishing? Who makes the decisions then? The writer.

How important is it to consider during planning?

Very – and what I mean by that is don’t!

Every time I’ve tried to write something to a certain length, it hasn’t worked. It’s okay to have an idea, something to aim towards but if you fall short or go over it’s not a big deal. This isn’t being graded (I always hated that my essays had to be at a certain length, surely going over would be a good thing!?) so as long as it feels right to you, then don’t worry.

Editing and redrafting will help you cut down on parts that are useless or find gaps in the story you need to fill out so why worry about writing a novel that has 70,000 words?

I’m not going to post the lengths of popular or successful novels here. There’s plenty of posts out there for that and, as you probably know by now, I write sci-fi and fantasy mainly. Those novels can be a hell of a lot longer than other fiction novels but there are always exceptions.

Make your plan, and follow it. Use word counts, targets or thresholds as motivation to keep going, not as a way to stop.

What about short stories and other forms?

The key here is the word ‘short.’ I’d advise you to not abandon the tactic of planning and writing them without a specific count in mind. Just like with a novel, you could end up compromising on what you originally planned.

There are plenty of competitions out there, around the world and throughout the year, that ask for different lengths and genres. Writing for a specific competition is an option but you won’t be as invested in the story compared to writing it for yourself. Once it’s done, then look for where you could submit it to, if that’s what you want to do. That means you’ll always have an amazing piece of writing (in the end) that hasn’t been controlled by someone or something else.

Novellas, poetry and other forms all have other rules but in most cases, write first and edit later down to what you want it to be, or if you absolutely have to, to what it needs to be.

Remember, as I mentioned in my last post, writing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole process. Don’t ruin that by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to hit a specific target because someone else said so. You’ll regret it in the long run – unless it’s for a publishing deal, but that’ll normally come a little later in the process so write first.

If you don’t believe me, try it and see.

So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books
Some of my favourite books – I’d love for my name to be here one day. Don’t you want the same?

You poor, poor fool.

I’m just kidding. Kind of. Regardless of how old you are, where you’re from or what you currently do, you’ve got a burning desire to tell stories and that just isn’t being fulfilled right now.

Maybe you’re writing something in your spare time; novels, short stories, poems, scripts and such. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. Well, I can’t tell you I’m an expert on the subject since, you know, I’m (at this stage but if you read this years later I may be) not a published author right now.

What I do have are experiences, insights and tidbits of information that may help in some way. I’m going to share these with you here. They won’t make you a writer but if it helps you pick up that pen or open that word processor, I’m counting it as a win.

What a better way to start 2016’s blogging than this? Precisely.

You’re a writer. Deal with it

Not everyone has a problem with this but it can come up every now and then. Calling yourself a writer – or having someone else call you it – is fine, but actually feeling like one is something completely different.

Maybe it brings a sense of pressure to produce or do something. Perhaps you feel guilty because it doesn’t feel like a job or bring the same stability other careers do. Or, you might just find it frees you and you can relax at last.

Whatever it is, you’re going to have to deal with it. It comes down to feeling comfortable with who you are, maybe not your entire being but this aspect of it. It might strike early on or later, but just remember, you’re not alone. Proof of being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tolkien, King or Rowling – far from it. Just be yourself, write the way you want to and, most of all, enjoy it!

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s mind numbing.

Sound familiar? Then you’re doing it wrong. Planning your work is the first step of a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable process. I love writing books but at the same time, short stories and blogging are hugely enjoyable. Each needs different levels of planning and it’s different for everyone.

My novels need a lot of planning. I develop characters, settings, plots and subplots usually before writing anything (although sometimes I write little extracts that do or do not feature in the story later). Once I understand the world I’m writing in, I start. My plan is usually a list of points per chapter and I play connect the dot. Whether you storyboard, mind map (or whatever the PC term is for it now) or use audio notes, it helps keep you on track.

Short stories need less planning but just as much research. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. On the flipside, if you get a flash of inspiration, go with it and then come back to your plans later, then work out how to use it.

Writing is actually fun!

Yes! Yes, it really is. It’s the most enjoyable part of it, but if you’re doing this solely to make money, turn around right now and pick another career.

Don’t get me wrong, we all (those of us who choose this) want to earn a living as a writer but if you’re writing for money, your writing will suffer because it’s not what you want to do. People are smarter than you think and they can see through the façade, so write honestly, about something you like and are passionate about, and the success will come.

I’m a great believer in the best job is the one you love doing, day in and day out. If you enjoy writing, whether its books, poems, web content, blogging – whatever – you’ll write better, build a bigger and more genuine audience and achieve the goals you want.

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

It’s the ‘p’ word again – no, not publishing/ers. Pressure. It’s one of the biggest killers to any good story or project. If the pressure mounts up and you can’t deal with it, you’ll come across that infamous writers block.

I’m no believer in ‘writers block’ although I do use it as an umbrella term. There are a number of reasons why you might suffer from it. Pressure is one, tiredness and stress are others. A lack of focus or concentration, illness and many other factors can all stop you in your tracks.

Social media can be a big one. Too much time mindlessly clicking on Facebook’s timeline or Twitter’s newsfeed can destroy hours and days and – whoops – you’ve lost a week, then a month. That’s when the pressure builds. It’s a vicious cycle but if you put small steps in place to build a routine, you’ll get there.

Don’t get me wrong, some days you’ll write 20 words and others 5,000 but that’s okay. I try to write for at least one hour every day. The routine helps.

Find real feedback

This is tricky. Real, constructive feedback is essential to help you grow as a writer, and to develop your work. Other writers are great but they can often be busy. Readers are good but a reader doesn’t always make for good critic.

AVOID family and friends. They’ll have the best of intentions, no matter what you say to them beforehand, about what you expect and would like from them. You’ll get a “it was really good” or “I really enjoyed it” and that’s about it. Occasionally, you’ll dig and dig and dig and get a little nugget but it’s not worth THAT level of effort.

Find a writing group, in person or online – they exist everywhere. Follow the rules and be respectful. You won’t always like or agree with what they say but it’s for you to decide how to use that criticism. Throwing it back in someone’s face and going in a huff won’t help you and you’ll find feedback disappearing.

There are rules. Follow them or don’t – it’s your call

Every genre of writing has rules. So does every medium or format. Some people will tell you to stick to them at all costs while others will tell you not to worry and break them whenever you want. In the end, you have to decide.

It depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your writing, the genre, context and so much more – it’s why planning and research are important. It will help you figure out which rules to follow (if any) and feedback will help prove or disprove your decisions. Be willing to adapt to meet the story and expectations of your reader to an extent. It’s a very fine line.

At the end of the day, it’s your call.

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

However, it’s essential. You’ve written your book or script or poetry collection and you send it off straight away, so proud you’ve done it. Now you just have to wait for the phone to ring for hours on end with publishers offering you deals. Right?

Wrong.

You’ll make mistakes – spelling and grammar included, no matter how hard you try to spot them – and there will be plot holes, lines that don’t make sense to anyone but you. This is why you need to edit your work. Read it over and over and over again, and then get someone else to proof it as well. The repeat. Iron out those mistakes BEFORE you send it anywhere. It might take a full year to do this. Be patient.

Publishing, agents and rejection

There’s so much to say on this but you are going to face more rejection than you are success – at least, early in your career. The worst thing is, it’s not always just plain rejection. Sometimes you hear nothing at all in the months you’re waiting. It’s awful but that’s the way it is.

Get used to ‘no.’ It might be in a nice way but that’s what it is. Dust off and try again. It takes many, many tries to get someone to even acknowledge you. So many writers have what could be successful books or stories and give up after a few no’s.

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

There’s so much reading you can do, from people like me to the ones who have done it. It’s important to remember that you’re not me, and you’re not them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else so don’t get caught up on an idea if it doesn’t work out.

That being said, it can’t hurt to know about what people have gone through and use it to help, if you can. I’ve started you off, or given you some encouragement (or maybe I’ve put you off entirely – sorry!).

Either way, it’s a long and hard journey ahead of you. Stick with it and you’ll get there. Honest.

I read this article recently, on how to smash through seven writing roadblocks writers come across at various times. It’s quite interesting and worth a read, either now or later.

Good luck!

Picking Your Audience: How Early Should You Do It?

I’ve often wondered about this. Some of you may be sitting there (or standing, depending on what you’re doing) and screaming at me for even asking such a daft question but is it really that silly?

Identifying your audience early shapes the story

Any story begins as an idea. An acorn, if you will, that will grow into (hopefully) a grand old tree. We, the writers, are the ones nurturing this growth from start to finish – and sometimes beyond, even if no one knows about it! It’s rarely a case of ‘this is my idea, no it’s time to get writing’ although even I find that hard to resist.

There’s the research element, looking at similar stories across a range of mediums and the market itself and the planning stages too, from character creation to settings and more. Then there’s the audience. What audience do you want to write for, is it suitable for your story and how can you ensure the two go hand in hand?

These are not easy questions and you may find yourself compromising in one way or another. The risk here is that you may become disillusioned with the entire project because it isn’t what you originally wanted to write, or for who you wanted to write to. That may mean you need to change one aspect to ensure that enthusiasm isn’t going to wane at any point.

The biggest benefit I find working this way is that it gives you a clear goal right from the outset of the process. Some people need that end goal in sight but it can take time nail it down so don’t think you can get past this in just a day.

Your story and writing style determines the audience

The flipside of this, however, is that I firmly believe some writers are better suited to different genres and audiences than others. I’m going to use J.K. Rowling as a partial example; Harry Potter is a phenomenal series but other works, largely adult fiction, hasn’t taken off. I’m not the biggest fan of her writing style, which is down to what I like to read and how I write, but there has to be a reason for that, surely?

I’m not saying she should write more Harry Potter, but maybe that audience is something to consider? We’ll see.

We can all write for different audiences, in different ways and styles but there are some that suit us better, that we feel more comfortable with and everyone, apart from the very best writers, will produce better work in their comfort zone. Even the ‘best’ will be better in their favourite zones but they have found a way to reach a high standard, a believable standard from a reader’s point of view, even outside it.

It’s something I’ve put a focus on over the last few years, writing outside of this comfort zone, focusing on different audiences. I won’t let many people see this stuff right now but maybe one day, I’ll get it to a level that I can be happy with. I’m proud of myself for trying and it does teach me a lot. It’s also why I can understand that some stories and styles just don’t work together.

Some rules are made to be broken but others, not so much.

Conclusion

Like with a lot of topics to do with writing, creative processes and indeed, the Arts in general, it’s all down to personal preference. I don’t think it’s easy to say “I’m going to write a young adult novel” and have it happen – at least not all the time. The project may start out with that intention but if you aren’t able to adapt along the way, I don’t believe that it will get anywhere.

Plans are great but we, as writers, change throughout the writing process. Almost as much, if not more, than the story we’re writing. Another part of this, is also understanding the markets and how they evolve as well. Everything’s connected.

It’s certainly an interesting discussion but not one that’s likely to be settled any time soon. However, that is it from me for 2015. It’s been a year full of ups and downs and I’m going to take a few weeks off over the holidays to recharge and to get ready for 2016. So, whatever your plans and beliefs are, and whatever you have planned over the coming weeks, enjoy it and I’ll see you in January.

Ciao!

How Do You Write?

If you think this sounds like a silly question, then you are right. It is silly on the surface but one thing technology lets us do is the same thing in different ways. It opens up so many options and once you learn to harness those choices, it actually means a lot more people can do the things they want to do than ever before – whether as a career or just for fun.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. You can find some great talent and amazing stories but there’s now so much content being produced that it’s becoming harder and harder to sift through it all, let alone decide what you should spend your time reading (and watching, playing, listening etc).

Writing by word processor/typing

This is probably the most common method in the current world. It’s only going to continue as digital technology grows in importance in our lives.

It’s a lot more environmentally friendly, which is a huge bonus. Being able to make changes to your work easily is very helpful and there are no masses of paper to sort through. Numbering pages is easy, as is making notes and comments. It’s also simple to share with others and get feedback.

If you want to be pedantic about it, this is typing rather than writing but just be glad you don’t have to rely on a typewriter. Sure, some people like it and that’s fine but I’m so used to using a word processor now that it’s hard to think of another option.

Just don’t forget to keep backups. Please keep backups!

Writing by hand

Think about how hard it is to write a book these days. Now, imagine how hard it was to do without the advantages of computers. Scratching out mistakes, crumpling up page after page, manuscripts piled high.

And the wrist cramp. Ouch.

That can’t be just me, surely?

I’m not used to that amount of writing anymore and I do find myself cramping up. It has its uses, definitely. When I’m on the move I always have a pad of paper. Typing it up afterwards is a pain but you do notice little mistakes straight away and that’s useful.

Writing with a quill is also a lot harder than you might think. Seriously.

Writing by dictation

How many had ever thought of this method? How many of you have actually tried it? It may seem like cheating but I think it can be useful – especially if you’re away from a computer/paper – to an extent.

If you have a good dictation machine or recording set up and software to translate audio files into text, you can capture any sudden bursts of inspiration at any time.

Writing a full book this way probably isn’t a good plan, since it’s not so easy to check what you’ve done before and there’s no guarantee wat you say will be translated properly at the moment.

You’ve got to remember, though, that before stories were written down, they were told orally. That’s how stories were told and passed from person to person so there’s some logic to doing things this way. It’s quite an interesting feeling.

Give it a shot.

Any others?

There are probably a hundred and one different ways people write now. Gone are the days when you’re only real option was to use pen and paper. I’ve tried the ones above, with varying and interesting results but if you have any others, feel free to share!

The Joys of Editing

So, as I mentioned last time. I’ve been kind of here and there lately. I lost my job in June and spent the summer getting another one. That’s done and while it’s a very good job and I’m really enjoying it, it is causing challenges.

The time it takes to travel to and from work is much longer now than I’ve been used to since finishing uni…actually, since I started working eleven years ago! This is tiring for me and I don’t want my life to be work, write, sleep and repeat. I’m still trying to get that balance.

One thing I have been doing is writing.

I’ve been putting off editing my novel thus far – I’m just not ready. So, when I’ve finished the draft of my current project (which involves a fair bit of editing) I’ll come back to it and take another look and decide whether the time is right.

After discussions with a few friends and writers, it’s interesting to see the different ways of editing a project so I thought I’d take a look here.

Digital vs print

When it comes to editing, I find it very difficult to do on a screen. I find that my eyes start glazing over after a while, which makes me miss even the most obvious mistakes. When I notice this happening while I’m writing, I know it’s time to take a break since, for me, it’s easier to get on a roll while writing compared to editing. It’s a big problem.

My method is generally a quick once over to spot glaring mistakes and then I print it. In its entirety. I find a pen (of any colour though red is a popular choice) and make notes. Scratch out words and letters, put arrows to rearrange things, make notes to re-write parts and a lot more. I find this is also good to help me escape the increasingly digital centric world we live in.

It’s amazing the things I can spot – and often ask myself how thick I am to make such a silly mistake in the first place!

I’ve found a lot of people actually agree with me on this and do something similar although some handle editing digitally better than me. Kudos to you all.

It leads on to the second part of the discussion, however.

How long should you wait?

This is actually more fascinating and there’s a much bigger divide here.

So, let me pose you the question: how long should you wait upon completing your draft and beginning to edit it again?

Unless I’m faced with a tight deadline (possibly due to being lazy or a change of plans) I try not to edit anything without giving it at least a month’s breathing time. This is because I feel like I’m too close to it. When I read a book and pick up mistakes, it’s because of a fresh set of eyes. The more often I read a book, the less mistakes I notice. I become used to it, and know what to expect.

Editing is a ruthless business and I can’t afford that luxury. Every word is at risk, as is every letter. When I finish a draft, for both writing and editing, I put a reminder in my calendar for a month later as that’s when I can go back to it.

Other people are different. I’ve been told by people who don’t wait and dive straight in. Their minds are still on that level and they feel more comfortable keeping it there. I’ve tried it but it’s not for me. A few people have told me they send it to others after every draft. That can slow things down and I only do that when I’m at a stage where I don’t mind people reading it.

It’s very interesting to find out how we all work.

Going forward

In the end, I know what works for me and that’s the most important thing. Every writer is different but it can take a long time to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new – especially at different times as we don’t stand still for long.

The blog has been left alone recently and I apologise for that but I’m starting to get my act together. Having a plan/schedule makes a huge difference! Be sure to keep checking back for the latest news and thoughts.

I’m writing a lot more short stories at the moment and there are a lot of competitions coming up over the remainder of 2015 and going into 2016. I’ll be sure to share the best ones with you soon so you know what to start working for.

As always, good luck!

Regarding NaNoWriMo

I’ve been taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year for the last ten, eleven, twelve years or more. This year, however, I won’t be getting involved. I just don’t have the time or energy to commit to it.

While I would use it as a kick to keep on with my current project, I’m hoping to have it done by November (wishful thinking) and I’m happier going at my own pace now.

I’ve completed it once, back in 2010, and that was a great feeling but since then I haven’t had the same level of motivation, which is a shame. I’m not even entirely sure why yet. Maybe it was the challenge of doing it? Who knows.

If you’ve ever thought about, I’d definitely recommend getting involved. Find people in your area doing it and get involved with the meet-ups. You’ll meet some people you won’t forget any time soon!

“I’ll Try Anything Once…”

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam
Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

I’ve been distant again. Striking a balance between work, writing, blogging and living is quite difficult with my new role. I’m working on that but I’ve got a few posts lined up over the coming weeks so keep an eye out for those.

Today, however, I want to share a special experience with you all. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my favourite writers in my relatively short life – and I hope there are many more meetings to come in the future – but last Sunday (27th September 2015) I got to meet one of my all-time favourites.

And that, ladies and gents, is the fantastic Margaret Atwood.

What’s with the cliché?

It’s true, I used one. I don’t use them often in my writing, though I do have a love of puns and ironic clichés when I’m out and about.

How many time shave you heard someone say ‘I’ll try anything once’ but then the next chance to do something new they turn it down? Probably a fair few times. I’m guilty of it too, but I’m trying not to be – unless there’s a damned good reason.

This phrase, along with a number of others, is seen on motivational pictures, posters, memes, videos etc. That’s fine but how much impact do they really have now? There are so many of them – anyone can make them and share them online. ANYONE.

When it comes from someone you admire and respect, it hits home a little harder – and when said person is Margaret Atwood, who I have a huge amount of respect for and who has done so much, it encourages me to do the same.

Writing from experience

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? Well, other than telling you (without bragging – much) that I got to meet a top author, it’s also quite an important aspect of writing.

Can you write about romance without experiencing it? What about pain, heartbreak, excitement, joy and all the rest? Can you talk about death and the impacts it has on people if you haven’t lost someone?

In short, yes.

You CAN write about it but will it be convincing? Will your readers see through the bullshit or can they connect with it, empathise with the characters and situation and will they be moved by your words?

I’ve always believed you can’t write about what you don’t understand, and that’s why I try to do as much as possible, learn as much as I can and never stop growing. I’m not saying use real life examples but really stop and think about the emotions you’re trying to convey, the tension you’re building, and let your experiences guide you – and readers – through it.

You’ll get a much better response. Fiction is often an escape from the real world but think of your favourite characters or moments – how do they make you feel? That’s a good starting point.

Accommodating genres

Now, before you all scream the house down – this does work in genres. So you’re writing a fantasy novel and there’s a huge battle coming up. Sure, you’ve never been in that situation but would your characters be nervous (just an example)? Think to when you’ve been your most nervous and start there. Yes, you need to imagine beyond that but be consistent with it.

Never lost your loved one? Fine, think back to losing anyone – as hard as it is – and start there. Even a pet. Maybe you lost touch with a friend and regret it. There are always better places to start than making it up.

Even in historical fiction, you can find similar situations or occurrences that can give a starting point. If we all wrote the same thing, no one would be interested. That’s part of why writers are valued because it’s their take on something. It can be discussed, compared, thought on and a lot more.

It all comes from a small starting point. That flash of motivation to go further.

A great source of inspiration

Author events are always fascinating for me. Whether it’s a conversation, a Q&A, a signing, panel or anything else – it’s a great insight into another writer’s mind. What I’ve learned so far is that writers are weird.

We’re strange. Our minds wander off on tangents that seem relevant but often aren’t. We also need reigning in a little bit because we can get carried away at times.

This is great though, because you see the passion and love they – we – have for the craft. Sure, we want everyone to read our stories, to enjoy them, talk about them and such but in the end, I reckon we are driven to write.

There’s plenty I’ve done no one will ever see and that’s fine. It’s not all done for other people.

Coping with Feedback and Criticism

Apologies guys and gals, I’ve been pretty lax recently. I wish I could say that writing is my priority – I want it to be, definitely – but life likes to throw curve balls. Call it destiny, fate, karma, chance or whatever. It happens.

It happened to me a few months back. I was made redundant, at just what I felt was the worst time as I had just about gotten out of most immediate debt and was making plans going forward. Well, those got scrapped.

Now, fast forward a couple of months and I’m working full time again. Brilliant. However, there’s more travelling and adapting to a new workplace and job and this takes time so while I’m trying to keep up, it’ll take a while until I’m back to ‘normal’ again.

A little inspiration

Before this all happened, I’ve been trying to get my novella out there and hopefully published. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone amazingly well so far. I’m not surprised by this – I expected it and if you read my post on dealing with rejection earlier this year, you’ll know that. If you haven’t, go back and it read it now.

I sent it out somewhere else over the summer thanks to a friend who pointed me to it. With everything that’s been going on, I completely forgot about it but when a reply came, it actually gave me a little hope!

Receiving feedback

Now, I’ve done a post last year on group feedback but I want to go a bit further, and look at this in a different way here.

Whenever I submit my novella I always ask for feedback. Sometimes you’re told not to but if you don’t ask then you don’t get and this time it paid off. Despite the fact that this was, in essence, another rejection it didn’t actually matter. Receiving a reply is good because you get closure on that particular submission but getting feedback means I have something a bit more concrete to go on.

So, what was I told? Well, the first point was the topics that I’m writing about are “really interesting and certainly meaty enough for novel material” and that is a huge boost. While not everyone will like everything, knowing that is like a fundamental thumbs up for what I’m working on. Now, I’ve been doing this as a novella, as I feel it’s a lot sharper and more concise but the “novel material” comment has opened up a whole new can of worms.

I COULD make this into a novel but would I be able to carry over the tension and emotion through an entire book? That’s an interesting idea – and what about my ending? Would that work or would I need something else.

What I need to work on, in this person’s opinion, is making things less explicit and letting the reader, you, figure it out for yourself. That is something I generally agree with but in this case, I’m wondering if I’ll lose part of the character by doing so as he is quite direct and the novel is from his point of view.

There are a few other points but I’m keeping those to myself. You get the idea, however.

Reacting and dealing with it

Dealing with feedback and criticism can be hard at times. When you’ve spent hours, days, months, weeks – maybe even years – on a project, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, a piece of art, music or anything else, the last thing you want to admit to yourself is that there are things wrong with it.

That’s a natural response.

To really improve though, that outside perceptive is essential. I have a couple of people I can count on to proof what I’m doing and offer feedback but even then, I have to weigh up what they say with what I feel, want and know. It’s a hard balance to find.

When an expert gives you advice and feedback, you have to grab it with both hands and really think about it. For every sentence, note, brushstroke or whatever it is you use to create your masterpiece, compare it with what they say. They’re an expert for a reason and if you want to be one, you need to learn from them.

The problem isn’t getting over your pride, though; it’s getting over your fear.

The fear that by editing it further, especially based on the words of someone else, that your project becomes less what you wanted and more of what someone else thinks. You lose the core or essence of what you are trying to achieve. It ceases to be what you want and becomes something else.

It’s incredibly hard and by denying we do this, we give it more power. It’s another wall we don’t need to put up but it’s almost instinctual for any creative person to make sure that we can identify with our work, that others can too and that it represents the best of what we can do in that moment.

Deep stuff, huh?

So, what’s the answer?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have an answer to that. I’m not sure I ever will.

What I do know is that one person’s opinion doesn’t mean that you should abandon everything you think or feel. What I do know is that sometimes there are people who know more about what you’re trying to do than do you. What I do know is that you need to be able to adapt to anything that happens, in life, love, work – anything.

I’m not saying that I’m going to change my entire novella based on one person’s feedback but I have to take on-board what I’ve been told. I’ve gone to them because they’re the expert and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some real advice. I’d be a fool not to consider everything carefully before going forward, right?

Sounds like a good life lesson in general, if I’m honest.

‘Till next time!