Tag Archives: novel writing

Time to write?

‘I’d love to write a book, if only I had the time,’ I wish I had a pound for every time  someone has said that to me. I think it’s one of the most insulting things you can say to a writer. it implies that writing is a time-wasting activity of little importance, indulged in by those who neglect the duties of life for their own self-indulgence.

The  opposite is usually true, most writers fill in writing around career or day job and family responsibilities. Even if writers make a living they work as hard if not harder than many people in traditional jobs. There is no switching off at five o’clock , weekends or on holidays and who else carries a notebook at all times, ears flapping and eyes on stalks for the next original idea?

Actual writing is only a small, if the best, part of the job. There are the endless revisions, the critique groups to attend, the process of self-publishing or working with agent and publisher and increasingly nowadays writers must constantly promote themselves by attending literary events and readings, preparing and running writing workshops and courses and maintaining a plethora of social media profiles.

Finding time to actually write can be so difficult. One writer told me she wrote for ten minutes in the toilet each morning as this was the only place she could find privacy from her large family.  I can’t help wondering how she managed to access creative thinking in such a short space of time. Even if you do have space and time to write, self-discipline can be a major problem, there are always a million things you suddenly need to do before you can actually get down to putting pen to paper. The time you spend prevaricating however is not wasted, it is usually the first step in getting your unconscious to work on the piece of writing ahead of you.

Dedicated writers often have a separate office or garden room to separate home and working life but only those making a good living can afford this. Timetabling set periods for writing can be very useful, hopefully more than ten minutes at once. I find I need thinking time to recap what went before and preview what is coming next. I work well first thing in the morning before getting up. An hour with a cup of tea to start never fails to produce results. During the day there are too many distractions so I confine myself to research or typing up and editing work already handwritten. I always take my writing with me when I go out and generally wangle a coffee in a cafe  somewhere along the line. 30-40 minutes with a large latte will usually produce upwards of 1000 words. Funnily ambient noise doesn’t bother me, yet the slightest sound at home will drive me insane.

I’m a fast writer once I get started but tend to spend quite a lot of time in reverie playing out scenes in my head and I do spend time planning out a scene or chapter loosely before getting down to it.

So this is how I find time to write. I do believe writing is a compulsion and those of us who must write will find the time to do so somehow. This is why we are writers while others just wish they had the time. But, I wonder can you write too much? That’s a subject for a whole new blogpost.

Running a giveaway competition

I just tried out another self-publishing experiment – the giveaway competition. This was organised through my publisher Feedaread. You post an extract which people are invited to read and then complete an entry form to win a free copy so it is very simple for people to do. You have to pay the cost of the prizes and postage and you choose how many copies you want to offer as prizes.I chose to run the competition for my new short story collection, Plotlands. I did quite a bit of social media advertising of the competition  over a few weeks as the entry period runs for a month. Problem is to reach people without boring them to death with constant bombardment so I tried to stagger posts/tweets etc between different media over time.I was interested to see that each time I posted something, entries resulted, though there wasn’t a huge number of entrants. I also got more views on the page I had created on Facebook specifically for the book and even a few purchases, though whether that was due to the competition or just due to word of mouth/responses to reviews buyers, I don’t know. I enjoyed monitoring the competition and finding out who had won, funnily enough it was won by someone I  know, so it was a good job I had nothing to do with the selection, which was done by Feedaread. So although I didn’t get a mega response it was a fun experience and made me feel more connected with potential readers. I’d definitely do it again and am planning to run a comp for my other short story collection in the near future.

Who Needs an Agent?

It’s about six weeks now since I parted company with my agent. My original agent left for another agency and didn’t take me with her as she hadn’t managed to sell my work. Despite several near misses, I got the impression that my books didn’t quite fit the mass market appeal that agents and publishers are looking for.

Obviously agents are only going to deal with fairly large scale publishing houses and because I was under contract to the agency, I couldn’t submit to anyone else. All that’s changed now as once set free, I plunged into a frenzy of submissions which has already resulted in two short story acceptances and a shortlisted entry for a competition  http://www.ouenpress.com/9.html. The novels have gone out to a variety of smaller publishers so I’ve got my fingers crossed there.

However, I do miss my agent, mainly for her unwavering support in the face of rejections. Her constant encouragement and belief in my writing kept  me going when I felt like throwing in the towel. She also put in a good deal of unpaid work reading and suggesting edits to my manuscripts and I learned a good deal about tailoring my work during the time I was with her.

So, even though I’m enjoying the freedom at the moment, especially being able to write whatever I like in whatever genre and offer it to a variety of publishers without being typecast, I think I may eventually look for another agent. I’m hoping to find joint representation for an autobiography I’m currently ghostwriting and once that’s finished I’ll be taking stock and deciding which road to take next – maybe even dipping a toe into self-publishing waters though that’s something I’ve been afraid to tackle so far.

Is there more to a writer’s life than writing?

How much of a writer’s time is actually spent writing? I consider myself a writing professional but much of my time is taken up with writing-associated tasks rather than actual writing.

Usually I don’t think about this too much, just  moan that I don’t get enough time to write so I thought I’d take a look at how I have spent my time in the last two weeks.

1, Edited a full novel ms for a client

2. Edited a chapter for another client

3. Revised two chapters of my current novel’s first draft.

4. Judged entries for a regional writing competition.

5. Prepared a workshop to give to my local writing group next week.

6.Attended two writers’ groups and a guest author night at my university.

.7. Spent around two hours a day networking on social media.

8. Dealt with writing accounts and paperwork, files sorting and book orders.

9. Wrote two thirds of a short story for an ongoing themed collection.

So out.of all these activities only the last one involves any actual creative writing with a total output of around 5 hours..

Of course as well as a writing life, us writers have our normal life going on as well. Around my writing practices, I fit in walking my dog twice a day,, caring for my large garden and allotment, getting involved in local community projects and hobby groups, finding time for my hobbies of cooking, knitting, sewing, antique doll collecting,spinning and lacemaking as well as the usual household tasks, shopping and socialising with friends.

Sometimes I read of other writers who shut themselves up or go off on retreats for weeks or months to produce a novel and I feel a twinge of envy but then I think such strategies are not for me. I tend to work in short bursts of around two hours with periods of other activities in between, with a maximum of three sessions a day, and even then, one of those is usually editing.

Walking the dog, gardening or doing some craft work, I find, clears my mind and allows my unconscious to work behind the scenes so that when I come back to my writing I’m refreshed and much of he writing seems to have been done and stored by the ‘unknown pen in my back brain’.

Writing is a major focus of my life. A writer is what you are, not what you do but friends, family and finding time for other things are important too. It’s a matter of trying to find a balance in a world that become ever more crowded with stuff to do.

Inspiration from strange places

Well, I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, hence no posts. First week was in Pwlhelli. Had a lovely quiet week with lots of walks for me and the dog and managed to get quite a bit of writing done. Second week was a coach trip to the Cotswolds with some friends. Again got quite a bit of writing done in between sightseeing trips. The chapter I’m writing is from the detective protagonist’s point of view, but I really wanted to put in some sections from the VP  of the perpetrator but I couldn’t see how to do that without giving away her identity and I couldn’t get a clear idea of her voice. On our final day we went to Worcester, which is where I was brought up and the coach went past the house where I lived when I was very young, triggering lots of memories of my childhood

On Monday we had guest author Carys Bray at our writers’ group and Carys did a workshop with us based around our ideas of ‘home’. I started to write memories of my childhood, which had already been in my mind after the trip  to Worcester and then I had one of those lightbulb moments as I realised that I could use these for my perpetrator’s voice, giving clues about her childhood and personality without revealing too much about the her involvement in the crime.

On Tuesday I was at a local antiques centre, attending an auction. I had some time to spare waiting for a lot to come up that I wanted to bid on so I went to the cafe and started writing a section in the voice of the perpetrator using some of the memories that had surfaced in the workshop. After that I had a walk round the stalls and spotted a Dr Barnardo’s money box in the shape of a cottage dating roughly from the 1950s. I remembered there being one of these in my classroom at primary school and it triggered yet another memory of an incident I could include in my writing. The notion of ‘house’ figures strongly in my novel and it seemed almost fated that I should see this house and get this memory just when I needed it. It made me think how tenuous is the chain of ideas that leads to the pen and what arrives on the page and how things just seem to fall into your lap sometimes if you are open to receiving them. I’d been in a sort of Sargasso sea with this particular character and now suddenly it’s all systems go. Let’s hope it continues  this way.

Last week was writing fun

Last week seems to have been fired with energy, probably because the week started with a bang when I attended Conrad Jones’s talk on publishing to Amazon Kindle at Alston Hall on Monday. I defy anyone not to be inspired by Conrad’s energy and enthusiasm for self-publishing and his practical and down to earth advice really made me determined to try publishing some short fiction and non-fiction this way. Having said that I haven’t actually got round to doing it yet because the feelgood factor spilled over into current writing and I stuck quite well to my 1000 word a day quota on the new novel and got to the deadline of finishing the chapter by Friday that I’d set myself. I’m a longhand first drafter though and I must confess, I didn’t meet the other deadline of typing and editing it all onto my laptop by Sunday but I have a really good excuse, honest, well, two good excuses. First, I’ve been asked to run another set of workshops through the autumn at a local gallery and I had to produce a programme for these by Monday. Second, I was at a camping weekend at the weekend and it was close to the site of this old abandoned mental institution which has been left to fall apart, windows hanging off, trees growing through the roof. You couldn’t imagine anywhere more creepy and the atmosphere seemed to carry the cries of all those people who’d been incarcerated there in the old days of insitutionalisation. I just knew there had to be a story in there but about what? Then, bingo, I was driving to Ormskirk in my car, listening to the radio, when this story came on about a man with a really strange condition. I’m not saying what it was, I don’t want to give my ideas away, but the two things came together with a bang. So, naturally, instead of getting on with my novel, I’m now in the throes of producing a short story. Started this morning and got about 1000 words done but not quite sure where it’s going yet. I’ve got a storyline to about the middle but guess I’ll just have to follow the trail for a while and see where it goes. I shouldn’t be doing this? I should be concentrating on the novel? I KNOW, but I just CAN’T, I’m too excited and I just have to write it NOW. Anyway, I’m going to the Isle of Man soon to research for the novel and I expect to write all week when I’m there, so I’m sure I’ll catch up and the writing will be better for being steeped in the atmosphere. And as long as I’m writing something…..