Welcome to episode 22 of my 2020 Staycation Podcast in which I explore how our attitudes change when faced with the possibility of a finite existence.
Taking care of our mental health by sticking to a routine
Welcome to day nine of my Staycation Podcasts where I talk about the importance of routines in maintaining our mental health. Hope you enjoy!
How to stay sane in the middle of Coronavirus
While I’m stuck at home because of COVID-19 I thought I’d start a podcast series for everyone else affected by coronavirus. Hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear from you! We are not alone, together we can!
Three little words…
One interesting thing that has started to happen as I journal throughout the day while simultaneously blogging and working on my novel is that I am starting to dream more. I don’t remember what my dreams are when I’m awake, at least I can’t grab the pen quickly enough to jot them down before they evaporate from my conscious mind, but I am aware it’s happening. I suspect that I’m unlocking something. The more I write, the more my brain wants to show me things.
Today’s blog post is subtitled, “three little words,” because I have realised something important in the last few days. No, I’m not about to say, “I love you,” but rather, quite simply, “I need help.” Writing is such a solitary past time that it’s extremely difficult for us to do it on our own. The Bronte sisters would walk around their dining table reading their work to each other, Jane Austen would write letters to her sister, Steven King is all over Twitter. There is something magical that happens when creative people come together to share their work, to brainstorm ideas, and to dream dreams.
That’s what I need. It’s what makes me feel most alive. My dream is to write a story about a girl who is a workaholic, over-achieving perfectionist. Tragedy strikes her family, she crashes and burns, and finds herself in a magical place that people only find when they need it the most. That is what Finding Freodholm is all about. That’s what I’m doing when I sit down and write every day. What about you?
What are your hopes, your dreams, your struggles, your fears? What ideas do you have that need fleshing out with an interested ear? How can we help each other? I need your help. Do you need mine?
If it’s good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, it’s good enough for me
I’ve recently been suffering from a bad case of procrastination. I normally love to write, in fact I live and breathe to write. Lately, however, I have been finding almost anything to do before actually sitting down with the manuscript and getting some words on the page. Tomorrow, tomorrow I will start and become a hard-working, serious, accomplished, brilliant, and of course, perfect writer.
And the cursor remains flashing on the blank page.
I’ve tried many things. Some have worked for a while – changing location, setting a timer for ten minutes, writing by hand rather than on the computer, dictation, yet after a while the inevitable kicks in, the malaise ensues, and I’m left feeling like I’m under-achieving with the elusive bubble of getting this book out just beyond my reach.
Today I decided I needed to give myself a good talking to. I picked up one of my many partially-used journals and began writing. I decided that this journal would be my writing buddy, my genie in a bottle, my higher power, my cheerleader and my friend who would help me to be the writer I was destined to be. I set myself small goals. I told my journal what they were and checked back when I’d done them. I congratulated myself on my accomplishments and chivied myself along when I got stuck. It’s been fantastic, and there are now words to accompany the flashing cursor.
Here’s an except from today:
Dear diary, I need you. I cannot do this without you. I dream of a brighter future but it won’t come unless I’m prepared to work towards it today. Please give me the kick up the backside I need to get myself in gear and just do the next thing…
I’m reminded of the scene in The Social Network where Mark Zuckerberg is blogging at the same time as he is giving birth to Facebook. If it worked for him, why can’t it work for the rest of us? How about I check in every day and say how it’s going? Even if one person reads it and says hello I’ll be happy. Maybe you’ll decide to give it a go too and we can share with each other? Are you willing to go on this journey with me and to see where it collectively takes us? Pen’s poised? Then let us begin…
Why getting an editor was the best thing I ever did
I’m terrified of releasing my work on the world. There, I’ve said it. I’ve had an idea for a novel which has been percolating in my head for the past eleven years and yet it is still not published. I’ve written countless drafts, some of which I’m ashamed to say I’ve deleted in moments of pure insanity. I’ve renamed, restructured, reversed and rebelled. So what’s stopping me from giving it a go? One word. FEAR!
I’ve nothing to compare it to. I’m an avid reader so surely I’m a reasonable judge of what is good and bad literature? For me, it’s quite simple. I want to get lost in a story, be transported to another world. I want to connect with the characters, to care what happens to them, to experience the highs and lows of their journeys and to really miss them when I close the back page. That’s what I want from a story and that’s what I want to give to the world.
Yet when I read my manuscripts I get some glimpses of light coming through the cracks of my own incompetencies, but the awkwardness of the prose and unnaturalness of the dialogue rips me apart and I can’t see the light anymore. Is it good enough? Will it pass muster? I doubt it.
I long since decided to self-publish. I love social media and marketing and figured if my work is meant to be read it will find its way into the hands of the right readers. What I haven’t had until now is an editor, that is until I approached Ros. Ros is a friend who has an ability with language akin to a music maestro’s ear or a mathematician’s brain. She just knows when it’s grammatically correct. It sounds right. She agreed to take me on.
We’re working together one chapter at a time. I send it to her and she edits it, not with red pen, but the completed edited manuscript. I trust her to retain the integrity of my writing as she goes. Now here’s the catch. She won’t return it to me until I send her the next chapter. I’m chomping at the bit to know what she thinks each time, and desperate to see the finished result, but I hear absolutely nothing from her until I send her the next one. It makes me keep going and forces me to at least release my work to one person.
When I do, it’s always a joyful occasion. She tells me I’m a great storyteller and she can’t wait to hear what happens next. She encourages me to keep going. The chapters that are returned still sound like me, but I know they are cleaner and easier to read. Ros is a miracle-worker in my life and I know, because of her, that I will reach my goal of releasing my work on the world this year. Getting an editor was the best thing I ever did. What about you?
Why writers need to behave like athletes
A couple of months ago I went searching for a new writing app, and stumbled across Novlr. One of the things I like about Novlr is the dark background which is easier on my eyes. I’ve been using it for my work ever since. It also has a fantastic free writing course, the Couch to 80k Boot Camp by novelist and poet, Tim Clare.
In my experience it’s all too easy to forget how important it is to warm up with our writing every day. I’ve wasted countless hours staring at a blank page or screen, groaning under the strain of trying to force my writing muscle into action when it very clearly wants to sleep. Yet since discovering this course, with just ten minutes of writing a day, I’ve found that when I do now sit down for the main event I’m so much more limber and agile and I have a new-found confidence in what I’m doing that I never had before.
It really is a brilliant course. I can’t say enough about it. The clever way in which it slowly builds on itself and navigates so many areas of the creative writing process without you even realising how much you are growing is simply thrilling. Clare is a master when it comes to teaching, and listening to him prattle on a bit only makes it more disarming and accessible.
The fantastic news is that there’s more even after the course has ended. Clare is a prolific podcaster and his Death of 1000 Cuts podcast is available online and via iTunes. This is such a gift to us as writers and I’m extremely grateful to him for providing us with so much inspiration and for helping me warm up my writing muscles.
There’s more inspiration to be found all over the Internet and in many book shops, if you know where to look. For example, the San Francisco Writers Grotto have produced a book called “642 Tiny Things to Write About.” Whilst a bit more random, and not as sequential, as Clare’s warm ups, they can certainly breath new life into a tired mind.
Above all else, warm up! It’s not wasted time, quite the contrary. It helps you save time later by giving you the life and energy you will need for the big race. It has helped me learn how to play, have fun, and think outside the box. It has helped me grow in confidence, and not to strain my brain in trying to force it to run before it can walk. What I find it prefers to do now is dance. I hope you find it works for you too.
The very first time I had to give a presentation in a class at university my professor said something to me which has stuck with my ever since. He said, “you’re trying to give a lifetime of talks in one talk. You have a lifetime to give them so how about you tackle them one at a time and keep it simple?”
Keeping things simple, whether it be giving talks or writing novels, is easier said than done. We’re never just faced with a simple crossroads, but rather arrive head-on at a superhighway of different directions we could take our characters in. with that comes a crippling fear that we are going the wrong way, the imperfect way, the dead end way. What if we go a different way and it leads to the pot of gold at the end of the literary rainbow?
As I was preparing this blog post my mind started racing and ideas began streaming in. How about I write about the top five reasons why people never complete the novels they begin? Maybe one of those reasons is they overcomplicate things, but there are others, such as fear of failure, lack of time, no discipline, their heart just isn’t in it etc. But I have forced myself to stick to the point, and keep it simple.
In terms of writing, how many plots and sub-plots should there be? How many characters should I have? How many scenes should I visit? I’m always mindful of the book outline I saw by J.K. Rowling at the British Museum in which she listed one main plot and two sub-plots throughout the whole novel. Then there is A.A. Milne with his nine characters and Enid Blyton with just five. Every book we read has a different opinion so it’s little wonder we get caught up in mental knots and find it hard to move forwards. I don’t think there’s a magic number of sub-plots and characters. I just think readers know when we have too many. If in doubt, cut them out.
I always keep a separate note book beside me while I’m working called my “Ideas Book.” In it I scribble down all the extra thoughts and inspiration that comes my way so that I can get it out of my head and onto the page without muddying the waters of my W.I.P. A number of these ideas are ones I’ve come back to at a later date. There are enough others to last a lifetime, and as my professor said, I have a lifetime to write them.
Writing the blurb for the back of your book near the beginning is no bad thing. It can help you stay on track. If you can’t tell someone in thirty seconds what your book is about while stuck in a lift then you need to simplify it. If you don’t get it, no one else will.
So how do I simplify? I quite simply cut down, cut back and cut out. I cut down on the number of sub-plots so that I’m left with one or two. I cut back on any waffle, unnecessary trivialities, dull descriptions, and droning conversations, and I cut out any character who isn’t essential to the movement of my story. It’s brutal. But it’s worth it.
What are some of the things you do to keep your writing simple?