Writer’s High

There’s a feeling that many authors are probably familiar with. I like to think of it as ‘writer’s high’ but others refer to it as having the muse. I also call it being ‘in the zone’. It’s that wonderful feeling when you enter one of those writing phases during which you’re on a roll and the ideas are spilling from you quicker than you can type them up.

pngmedium-man-typing-colored-in-darker-1087701

Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it’s an uphill struggle, especially with a new novel, and it can take a while before you really connect with a piece of work and with the characters. You’ve got your basic premise for the novel and may have drawn up an outline but it feels a bit like painting by numbers as you try to fit each of the scenes into an overall framework. However, you’re not feeling a real spark and your writing isn’t exciting you.

Then, all of a sudden, something kicks in – one idea leads to another, scenes come alive in your imagination, characters become animated and you’re typing like the clappers, before you forget everything. You stop to make the dinner, you think of something else. You go for a walk, another scene comes to mind. You go to bed and the ideas still keep spilling out of you. By the morning you’ve got pages of handwritten notes ready to type up the following day. Your mind is alive with the thrill of it and you can’t wait to commit it all to the PC before you lose the feeling. Does that sound familiar?

pngmedium-multiple-thoughts-man-line-art-382871

It can take over your life – a bit like a drug and, although it’s a good feeling, it can get in the way of so much. When I’m ‘In the Zone’ ideas usually come to me when I’m trying to relax so it can be while I’m trying to sleep, when I’m out for a walk or even when I’m taking a shower. I find it useful to have a notepad by my bedside and another in my handbag so that I can jot down ideas whenever they come to mind. When I’m ‘in the zone’ I find it difficult to concentrate on a film as my mind wanders. That’s the reason I watch a lot of trash TV; because I don’t need to concentrate too much. (That’s my excuse anyway.)

With my current WIP it was an uphill struggle for part of it but mostly because I was going through emotional upheaval in my personal life. However, I’m now in a much better place and back ‘in the zone’. This novel has two timelines running through it and, in order to write the later timeline, I had to recap on a lot of what had happened in the previous timeline. I was relieved to find that it read quite well. Perhaps my personal struggles helped me in dealing with much of the conflict in the book.

I’m almost ready to give the novel a good edit and hope to send it off to my publisher in a few weeks’ time. It’s been a challenge as it’s the most I’ve ever written for a novel, in accordance with my publisher’s guidelines. But this story has a lot of depth to it so I was confident of reaching the word count without any unnecessary padding. I’ll be keeping you updated as I progress further with the novel.

 

Breaking the Writing Rules

Recently I have noticed a profusion of articles and blog posts by people involved in the publishing industry with titles such as ’10 Ways Not to Begin your Novel’. The suggestions of ‘things to avoid’ include having your protagonist waking up from a dream, prologues, going back in time and many others. The reason they give is that these types of openings are overused and are therefore sure to get your book rejected by publishers.

Clipartsalbum_16620 Books

Personally, I think this reasoning is crazy. Just because a particular approach has been used previously doesn’t necessarily mean it has been done in the same way. Similarly, because the opening to a book is of a certain type, it doesn’t follow that the book will have anything else in common with other books that have used the same type of opener. Of course, to justify their reasoning they often cite that it will put readers off. Really? Are readers concerned over whether or not a book has a prologue, or has the current dislike for prologues got more to do with publishing fads?

When I wrote my debut novel I opened it with my protagonist waking up from a dream. I had been reading books for 40 years prior to publishing Slur and I can honestly say that I cannot recall another book that opened in this way. It may be that I have read one years ago and retained it in my subconscious, but it isn’t as though every other book I read begins with a dream. Certainly dreams have been used to effect in novels, but does this mean that we should put a ban on the use of dreams in case they become overused?

This brings me to the bigger picture: if the publishing industry insists that we avoid openings that they consider are overused, then why restrict this ruling just to openers? Why not put a ban on jaded cops? Flawed heroes? Middle class chic lit full of dating and/or career dilemmas? Romance novels where boy meets girl but fate conspires to keep them apart for most of the novel until they finally end up together? Or, before this latest trend gets too clichéd, why not put a ban on the female cop who thinks she tougher than all the guys, but has a vulnerable side known only to the reader?

The important point I’m trying to make in all of this is that what’s more important than the type of scenario you create is how well it’s executed.

Another ‘rule’ that drives me to distraction is that it’s now become unpopular to replace the word ‘said’ with alternatives. Although we were encouraged to come up with more creative alternatives at school many decades ago (in my case anyway), those alternatives have now become anathema in certain quarters. I can understand how the overuse of alternatives can become jarring, but there are instances where certain words are more expressive than the word ‘said’ and they can convey the mood of the person speaking.

Gossip

The ‘point of view rule’ is another example that came to my attention recently through a book that I read. This is a rule that most writers follow, and I try not to break this one myself because it can become confusing if an author switches point of view mid-scene. However, in ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith there are many instances in the book where the author switches POV from one paragraph to the next. Yet, this is a bestselling novel, which has received rave reviews in the popular press. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision on the part of the author to take this approach, but I found that it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book and there were only one or two parts of the book where it caused confusion.

While there is a lot of good advice out there, which can improve your writing, sometimes I feel that there is too much. It is impossible to take it all on board especially as so much of the advice is conflicting anyway. Too much emphasis on ‘the writing rules’ can make your writing become stilted, so I think the best thing is just to enjoy your writing. Any howlers can be sifted out at the editing stage anyway and if there is any advice that doesn’t make sense to you, ignore it.

Rant over, for now, but if there are any writing rules that irritate you, please feel free to have a moan in the comments below. 🙂

Signed, Rebellious Indie Author.

P.S. My opening for Slur is staying.

Which is the Easiest – Writing or Speaking?

I guess I was destined to be a writer since, as far back as I can remember, I have always found it easier to express myself in writing than orally. I think there are several possible reasons for this. Firstly, it could be down to the fact that I have an inner confidence hidden behind a façade of low self-esteem. I know that my writing is good and, whilst I’m not one to brag, as a writer it’s important to have self-belief in your work. Writers get many knock-backs and it’s only by having that inner belief that you find the tenacity to continue in what you’re doing.

Public SpeakingSecondly is the fact that with the written word your imagination can run riot and you can have as many attempts as it takes to perfect what you want to put across. The use of a good thesaurus is also invaluable. Sometimes when I’m writing I know that there is a word that captures precisely what I want to say, but I can’t quite recall it. So, for the time being, I’ll use a word that I’m not totally satisfied with. Then usually, by either consulting a thesaurus or returning to the piece of work later, I can find that word. I can also proofread my work after my brain has had a chance to rest so that I can approach it afresh. This gives me the opportunity to correct any mistakes. In speech, on the other hand, if you drop a clanger you can’t scrub it out. When I was younger I was forever ‘putting my foot in it’. Thankfully, nowadays I don’t do that so much, but I still wouldn’t feel confident addressing a room full of people.

Thirdly, I’m not always too good at coming up with ideas when under pressure, but I have a powerful subconscious, which tends to spring to life when I am more relaxed. I feed my subconscious with the right influences by immersing myself in the particular genre or writing style that I am producing and also by carrying out research. This helps me to ‘get in the zone’. For example, if I have to write a comedy piece, I will read work by others that is in a similar tone and style. By doing this I find that my ideas start to flow. If I have to express my ideas verbally I usually prefer to rehearse what I am going to say rather than share my spontaneous thoughts.Brainstorming

Maybe it’s something to do with being creative, but I find that in order to come up with good ideas I have to sometimes push the boundaries a little. This means that I often brainstorm to myself before I arrive at something workable. It can entail coming up with some wacky ideas initially, but I put them all down on paper because these help to feed my imagination further so that I can eventually hit on the right one.

I would be interested to know whether you also find it easier to express yourself in writing or whether you make a good orator as well. Please feel free to share your comments below.

When the Going Gets Tough for Authors

It’s a fact that an author’s job is not an easy one. To start with you have to keep coming up with original ideas that will appeal to readers. You also have to make your books engaging so that people will want to keep reading them. Then there’s the research, outlining, drafting, re-drafting and endless edits. If you are an independent author then your job is even more demanding as there are so many other jobs to add to the list: proofreading, cover design, publication and promotion are all your responsibility.
While it’s possible to hire help for some of the work, the costs can soon add up so most Indies choose to do the bulk of the work themselves. With all that to consider, it’s not surprising that many of us get more than a bit disheartened from time to time. So I thought I would explore which elements of the job get to us and what we can do about them.

1) Writer’s Block

This is a common problem for many writers but it is often only temporary in nature and allowing yourself some time out can work wonders.

Plan of ActionOverworked Brain

My previous post on writer’s block included many tips so I won’t repeat the same points here. The important thing to bear in mind though is that it’s your brain’s way of letting you know that it’s tired and needs a rest. Therefore, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you take some time out to concentrate on other things, then return to your writing when you’re feeling refreshed.

2) Bad Reviews

Getting bad reviews is one thing, and I think that most of us can accept a little constructive criticism, but there certain reviews that can only be described as toxic. These can really shake your confidence and leave you asking yourself, ‘Is my work really that bad?’ However, it’s important to put things into perspective; the type of people that write ‘nasty’ reviews are probably ‘nasty’ people that are perpetually angry with the world, or prone to complaining – think ‘Victor Meldrew’. Unfortunately, people can be far more eager to leave a bad review than they are to leave a good one. This can be said of most of us; if we have a great holiday then we just accept it, but what if the hotel has poor service with faulty air conditioning and tasteless food?

Plan of Action

If your good reviews far outweigh the bad ones then I think you can safely assume that it’s a one off from someone who has a grudge against the world in general. Although it can be hurtful, potential readers will be far more likely to judge a book by the percentage of good reviews received. Therefore, if your book has dozens of glowing four and five star reviews then it’s highly unlikely that a reader will be swayed by one negative one.

What should you do though if you’re receiving a lot of bad reviews?

To start with try to look at the reviews dispassionately, perhaps when you’ve recovered from the initial shock. What are the readers criticising? Is there a common theme? Are there errors that you can put right? Whilst I would hesitate to make changes because of one poor review, I would certainly consider them if the same point is being made repeatedly.
Another way to counter the pain of a poor review is to think about your achievements so far and re-read your positive reviews. The fact that you have been able to self-publish is a feat in itself. Although it may seem like the world and his wife are self-publishing, especially if you spend time on social media, when taken as a percentage of the population, self-published authors actually make up a very small number.

3) Slow Sales

Slow SalesBuilding up a regular readership is something that the majority of Indie authors struggle with especially if you started out after the Amazon algorithms changed. When you see other authors having huge successes it’s important to bear in mind that there may be a number of reasons for this: they may have had to work at it for several years, they may have good contacts that can gain them a lot of publicity, or they may have done a free promo through Amazon before the algorithm changed. In the case of the latter, this propelled many authors to huge successes, but unfortunately it’s a little more difficult now.

Plan of Action

Although promotion takes up a lot of time, there are always other avenues that you can explore. Social media is a good promotional avenue in itself but it can also lead to contacts with book bloggers, reviewers and magazine editors. It pays to do a bit of lateral thinking as well when it comes to promotion; what is the topic of your book and could there be a promotional avenue that is linked to that topic? This is particularly advantageous for non-fiction authors but there can be outlets for fiction authors too. For example, if your book has a particular setting, could you contact the regional press in that area with a view to featuring either you or your book?
As you establish contact with other independent authors on social media, you could share ideas regarding promotion methods that have led to an increase in sales. Take a look at successful independent authors and find out what techniques they are using to promote their books; most of them will put links from Twitter or Facebook to any reviews, interviews, blogs etc. Another thing to bear in mind, however, is that different methods work for different genres. There is a wealth of information about book promotion on the Internet so do some research and find out what promotional avenues will work for you.
Going back to some of the points made in section two about bad reviews, it is also worth considering whether your book is doing enough to sell itself. Does the cover stand out and let readers know what the book is about? Will the book blurb draw readers in, and have you ensured that it is free of spelling and grammatical errors?

4) Volume of WorkVolume of Work

Yes, there’s no doubt about it, us Indies are a busy lot. One of my personal frustrations is that I spend too much time doing ‘other things’ and not enough time actually writing. To reiterate the points made in the introduction to this article, it is possible to hire help if you feel overwhelmed with the volume of work, but what if your budget won’t stretch to that?

Plan of Action

Prioritise – alright so it might seem a drag making a ‘to do’ list or putting notes in a diary but unless you set yourself targets, how can you hope to achieve them? Make sure that the daily list of tasks is achievable but don’t be too disappointed if you don’t finish everything on it. There are always other things that can crop up so it’s best to allow for contingencies. As well as daily lists you could also set yourself some long term goals, for example, you may aim to finish writing a specific chapter by a certain date. Again, there will be other tasks that will crop up but setting yourself a target will give you a focus and stop you spending too much time on worthless tasks. One of the things that writers find challenging is self-motivation, and setting yourself targets is one way of motivating yourself.

5) Social Media Addiction

Although social media is a very useful tool for independent writers it can also be time consuming. You can get so carried away with it that before you know it you’re halfway through the day and haven’t even begun to tackle your workload. I must confess to being guilty of this and I continually admonish myself.

Plan of Action

Social MediaAlthough I feel guilty if I feel that I’ve spent too long on social media, I really shouldn’t. As stated above, it’s an excellent promotional tool in itself and can also lead to establishing lots of valuable contacts. Aside from that, the life of a writer is a very solitary one and it can be good to have some online interaction with others. After all, you would expect to have a chat with your colleagues when you arrive at work, wouldn’t you? However, if you feel that you are getting too carried away you could always set yourself a time limit. A handy hint is to switch off your Internet while you’re writing unless you need to use it for research. I use ‘Outlook’ for email and it’s too tempting to react to the little yellow envelopes that appear at the bottom of the screen whenever I receive a new email. I therefore shut it down if I’m working on a piece of work with a tight deadline, to avoid temptation.

In terms of general tips to get you through the tough times, try thinking of all those famous authors that had multiple rejections prior to becoming successful. Additionally, as Indies we no longer have to rely on literary agents and publishers, and thankfully we have found a platform for our work to be published. The fact that our work is out there and being read by people is a wonderful achievement!

Thank you for reading this post. If there are any other tough elements of the job that you can think of, please feel free to share them. I also welcome your tips and suggestions for coping with the problems that authors encounter.

The Upside of Sending my Son to Uni

OK, so it’s not a writing themed blog in the strict sense of the word, but I’ve just reached a major transitional stage in my life – my eldest is leaving home! I will miss him so much and worry about him every day so I thought it only appropriate to cheer myself up by taking a humorous look at the positive side of sending my son off to uni. Parents, I bet you can identify with some of these.

N.B. I had originally scheduled this blog for around this time having already written it a while back. However, due to recent events in the Mannion family household I did have doubts about publishing a humorous article during a period of sadness. After many deliberations I have decided to go ahead. One thing that my children’s grandparents have bequeathed them is a cracking sense of humour, and they wouldn’t expect us to stop having a laugh because they are no longer with us. So, here it is – a humorous look at what I won’t miss when my son goes off to university:

Leaving for Uni

  1. He has a giant amplifier and a set of drums – need I say more?
  2. My Muller Light toffee yoghurts are finally mine.
  3. I don’t take my life into my own hands every time I enter his room, which resembles an obstacle course for military training.
  4. The bathroom will now be vacant for most of the morning.
  5. I can open the kitchen cupboards and find clean glasses and, as an added bonus, clean cups as well.Pizza and Beer
  6. I don’t have to watch him polishing off a 12 inch pizza followed by a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, a packet of crisps and two cans of beer; yet still remain skinny. Meanwhile I have to diet continually just to stay ‘well proportioned’.
  7. I get to spend more time with my husband while his taxi service is suspended.
  8. There’ll be no more having to emerge dripping from the shower in search of my shampoo and conditioner, when I suddenly discover that he’s nicked them YET AGAIN!
  9. I don’t have to give any more post-hangover (his hangover, not mine) tips on the best methods of removing vomit from jeans to ensure that you don’t clog up the washing machine.
  10. I won’t have to listen to the migraine-inducing, ear-piercing, repetitive bleep of the freezer door every time he fails to shut it properly.
  11. I won’t have to put my hand into a sink full of gunge because he’s (a) pushed the plug in again and (b) chucked his leftover baked beans, hot chocolate and ice-cream into the sink resulting in a revolting and potentially lethal mash-up!
  12. I won’t be bothered by his refusal to wear slippers, despite 18 years of nagging, resulting in a rapid turnover of socks and a malodorous whiff when he enters the room.

A Mother's LoveI must emphasise here that despite his foibles I love him to bits and wouldn’t trade him for the world. I’m also extremely proud of him; he’s a loving son, a great character and he’s worked really hard to gain a place studying medicine at a top university.

To get back to the writing theme, I find that humorous writing is one of the most difficult genres to write for. I was tasked recently with writing some web copy for a consumer finance company. The snag was that I had to make it slightly humorous – a bit of a challenge to say the least! After all, what’s funny about wills, pensions and life insurance? Thankfully I managed to achieve it by turning things on their head slightly, but it wasn’t easy.

I think that most of us see the humorous side of life and having a laugh comes naturally. Quite often wit happens spontaneously but to have to produce humorous writing to order is very demanding. That’s why I take my hat off to the guys that manage to achieve it continuously.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the writing genres that you think are most challenging to write for and why.

Why I Don’t Write Poetry Anymore

White LilyLong before I did any other writing (as an adult) I used to write poetry. This was back in the 80s and well before I started my writing course. I went through a very difficult period in my life which lasted a few years and I found that writing poetry was cathartic for me. However, when I came through that dark period I found that I could no longer write poetry with such ease. It seems that my talent for poetry writing only applies to sombre and depressing topics for some strange reason. I have attempted to write happy poetry but haven’t often been successful with only one or two exceptions. So, as my life and my state of mind improved, I gradually stopped writing poetry.

Then, 10 years ago I lost my mother and it was a very traumatic experience. I woke up one morning shortly after her death with the first and last verses of a poem fully formed in my mind. Within half an hour I had added the remaining verses. Together they capture exactly how I felt at that time. After showing the poem to a few relatives the consensus was that it should be read out at the funeral. So it was arranged and many people commented on how moving they found it. That’s the last poem I wrote, and I hope that I won’t feel the urge to write any more for a long time. Here it is:

Each day when I wake I’m filled with pain

To think that we’ll never see you again

You were loving and caring as a mother should be

You meant the world to my brothers and me

 

For months you suffered but soldiered on

I feel so guilty now that you’re gone

If only we’d known how ill you were

Then maybe you would still be here

 

The last two weeks were relatively good

They kept you from pain as much as they could

We had a party around your bed

It was lovely to see us together you said

 

We’ll always remember the happier days

You made us laugh in so many ways

With your quirky sayings and sense of fun

You could turn anything into a pun

 

Wherever we are you’ll always be there

It’s hard to express just how much we care

Your memory will never go away

For you made us all what we are today

White Lily and Cross

 Do you write any poetry that you would like to share? What inspires you with your poetry writing or with writing in general? Please feel free to let me have your feedback below.