Rent the story house before you buy it

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I was talking with two writer friends recently on retreat. One of them is a little less experienced. She was musing on what genre she might like to write in next. She is currently writing a Young Adult but is not certain that it’s a genre she wants write in all the time. She is keen to finish her YA book but she is also eager to explore other stories in different genres to see which one suits her best.

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I suggested whilst still working on the YA novel, she experiments with some short stories and see if anything grabs her. Writing short stories would give her the ability to play with different genres and different ways of writing, new voices and new methods, without committing herself to the slog of a new novel.

In other words, she should rent the story house before she buys it and writes a novel.

rent the house 2

With all the talk of finding one’s voice as a writer, I firmly believe the best way to do that is to set yourself the task of writing a series of short stories.

Write down the names of all the genres you can think of including mash ups, mix them all up and put them face down in a pile. Then write down the style – first person, third person, single viewpoint, multi viewpoint, experimental, repeating these as many times as you need to so that you have the same number as you have genres. Mix them up and place them face down in a separate pile. Finally write down a series of random words or phrases. Make sure you have as many random words or phrases as you do genres and turn them over.

Now, from each of the piles choose a piece of paper. For example:- Crime, Third Person, Sunny Day.

Bam! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go write that story and then the next one and the next one.

Some of the genres will not suit you. Some of the stories will be a struggle to write. Some you’ll never want to read again.

There will be stories which fall squarely in your wheelhouse and with which you’ll be completely comfortable. Though fun to write, these stories won’t tell you anything about who you are as a writer that you did not already know.

It’s the stories in between where the magic happens. Like putting on a comfortable coat, genres you have never tried before will totally suit your writing style, whole new areas of writing could open up to you as a result. The only limits on your imagination are the ones you put in place.

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So next time you are stuck and not sure what style suits you or which genre to concentrate on, why not rent the story house for a bit and then you’ll know whether you want to buy it or not.

Happy writing!

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White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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Why writers need to be more like Katy Perry

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We’re all familiar with Katy Perry, right? The songstress who brought us powerhouse self-empowerment songs such as Roar and Firework and the blast of frivolity that is Last Friday Night. Katy Perry = Top Ten hits, multi millions in the bank and sell out shows wherever she goes.

Katy Perry
Katy Perry by Eva Rinaldi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/cogT8E https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

But have you ever heard of Katy Hudson? Nope, me either until I happened to stumble across an interesting fact. Katy Perry started her singing career as Katy Hudson who, based in Nashville, sang Christian songs. In 2001 she released her debut album of gospel music, the eponymously titled Katy Hudson. It was a critical success but a commercial failure.

Katy Hudson reinvented herself, came back as Katy Perry (her mother’s maiden name) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Would Katy Hudson ever have made it so big? We’ll never know.

To do a complete one eighty on your name, your image and your music takes guts, but I guess if where you are is not where you want to be and you’ve given it your best shot, why not shake things up by trying something different?

I am as guilty as any other writer of pigeon holing myself into certain genres. We are encouraged to do it from the outset because agents and publishers need to know who we are and what we do so they can file us away in their minds under certain headings. Business wise it makes absolute sense and if you are killing it in the genre you are writing in then happy days.

But it is also important that whilst we know what genres we are writing in we are not defined by them. We always have the ability to step outside our comfort zone and write something different. Taking your mind for a spin in a totally different direction can be liberating.

If your writing career is presently more Katy Hudson than Katy Perry why not step back and look at the bigger picture. Would you be better off writing in a different genre, possibly under a new name? I am all for stickability but nobody wants to be flogging the proverbial dead horse. Would a reimagining relight your fire as a writer?

If you think it would, put on a Katy Perry track and let your imagination fly. All that matters is that you write from the heart and all writers know that good things happen when we do that.

Katy Perry 2
Katy Perry 2 by Gilles Dufresne courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fQAUdf https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Happy Writing!

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white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Getting Motivated to Write

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You know what it’s like, you have a miraculous hole open up in the schedule of your busy lives and you think ‘I should do some writing’ but then your inner voice kicks in with an increasingly whiny tone: ‘Do you really want to write? Let’s do something fun instead like go out somewhere/watch TV/play sport.’ Suddenly writing isn’t even on the agenda.

I don’t want to, don’t make me!

It is all too easy to talk ourselves out of time at the desk or in the study if you are lucky enough to have one. There will always be a million distractions. Silencing the whiny voice is where you start.

I was recently in just this position. The last thing I felt like doing was sitting in front of the computer screen. The project I’m working on is tricky. It’s hard work and my psyche was desperately trying to persuade me to do something less demanding and more FUN.

Steeling myself, I sat at the computer steadfastly ignoring the internet and all social media feeds because we all know what a rabbit hole they can turn out to be don’t we!

social media

I made a bargain with myself: sit at the desk for 30 minutes and write the damn thing. I figured if after 30 minutes I was still metaphorically banging my heels on the floor in a disinterested fashion, longing to walk away, I would allow myself to do so.

Sit there and shut up!

I opened the WIP and started to write. Slowly, slowly I was reeled back in to my characters’ lives and the rather precarious point at which I had last abandoned them. I began to engage with the scene, my thoughts racing ahead to the next scene and the next.

And then the magic happened.

magic

I was in the flow. The words were flying into my brain so fast my fingers could hardly keep up on the keyboard.

Two and a half hours and several thousand words later I paused for breath and happened to look at the clock. I could hardly believe it. Where had the afternoon gone? It felt like I had been sitting there for only a few minutes. As we all know time does not exist when we are in the flow.

Don’t go!

Hunger drove me away from the desk in the end rather than an overwhelming desire to check my Facebook updates.

So the moral of the story is get your backside in the chair and write. Don’t listen to the whiny voice trying to entice you away. Make a bargain with it if you must but give yourself enough time to become enveloped in your make believe world and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself wanting to stay.

Aerial view of computer laptop on wooden table

Why not give it a try?

Happy writing!

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Hold Your Nerve

A few years ago, I had an agent but when I expressed the wish to indie publish my agent and I parted ways. Since then I have indie published two novels and one novella and have sold two novellas to traditional publishers as well as finding success in the field of writing stories for women’s magazine. I went from not published at all to indie+trad published in one year and became a hybrid author.

Fast forward to 2017. I have completed my first crime novel. It’s a bit of a departure from the romantic fiction I have been known for to date and a world away from the light romances I write for the magazines. I have enjoyed the process and thoroughly embraced my dark side. Just as well I’m a Gemini and can write both genres even though they are poles apart.

I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written but then I’m biased.

Submission Hell

I could very easily have taken the decision to indie publish my crime novel and that may well be the path I end up taking. However, having met with enthusiastic and knowledgeable people at the Winchester Writers’ Festival in the summer I have decided to follow up on the contacts I made there and have sent my freshly polished manuscript off to one of the agents I met.

It is a long while since I have languished in submission hell. I had quite forgot how gruelling it can be. I am luckier than most because I gave the agent exclusivity for a limited period and she has promised to respond by my deadline, I at least know when, roughly, I will hear from her.

That, however, is only part of the pain of submission as authors who have trodden this path so many times before will know. It is the agony of the outcome that awaits, that holds me firmly on its tenterhooks, dancing first one way and then the other as my mood takes me.

Hook
Hook by Thomas Sturm courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/RyP7Rc https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Imagination is a vital asset for a writer to have. It becomes less than an asset in situations like these when my mind spirals away into various scenarios, very few, if any of which are likely to come true.

The Fearlessness of Youth

As is so often the case, I can usually find an analogy for life through sport. In the tennis or ice skating worlds you often find a precocious youngster, brimming with talent and utterly fearless, throwing themselves with abandon into their chosen sport, often vying for the highest prizes imaginable without losing their nerve.

Ice Skating
Ice Skating by Fabricio Zuardi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/5uhDnD https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Contrast them to the older, wiser, competitors. They have seen it all before, perhaps were once a precocious youngster themselves, but now the years have passed, they have amassed titles and fortunes and yet they still crave more. Now when they compete they cannot mirror the fearlessness of their young competitors, they know only too well the pain of failure, the soul searching questions that accompany it, the sands of time slowly running in the wrong direction.

I am not as young as I once was. I have known my fair share of failure. It is time, once again, to hold my nerve.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Mash that To Do List

To Do Lists

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To Do List by Sean MacEntee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/7HBZHx https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For a long while I assumed that if I wanted to achieve a long and complex task I had to throw as much time and effort at it as I could, usually in big chunks of time.

As I rarely had big chunks of time, these projects tended to moulder through lack of attention.

Then thinking about how I write novels – 500 words one day, maybe 1,000 words the next, it dawned on me that the little and often approach might bear more fruit.

fruit
Clusters of Pinot grapes on the vine by Wplynn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dgw2Em https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I have since applied this idea more widely.  Instead of carving out a whole morning to concentrate on one area, I will identify a single task and concentrate on that such as tidying the household paperwork.  Once that is done I’ll move on to hoover a couple of rooms of the house, then I’ll write a blog piece. Then I’ll prep dinner before illustrating the blog piece and uploading it.  Then I’ll work on the household finances before cleaning the bathroom.  You get the idea.

Mash That List

My free time is a mash up of tasks on my to do list.

Masher
Silver masher by Emdott courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9reRi https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When I tried out this approach I found not only did I achieve more stuff, none of the tasks tackled felt boring or overwhelming because I wasn’t spending too much time on any one of them.

Imagine sitting down to do your tax return.  I know – bear with me.  Your heart sinks. You know it’s important but you also know it’s boring.  It’s an afternoon of your life you’ll never get back.  Now imagine sitting down to do the first part of your tax return and then moving on to something more pleasant like reading a couple of chapters of the book you’re presently enjoying.  Taking that approach the tax return will be done within the week without any of the associated pain or boredom that usually accompanies it.

To my analytical and ordered mind, mashing up tasks took a little adjusting to.  It still strikes me as a slightly messy compromise but I cannot argue with the results.  When I first attempted it I had ticked so many tasks off my list that when I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and reflect I could hardly believe it.   What made the realisation even more satisfying was the fact that I had reached the end of that weekend without feeling tired/grumpy/impatient/bogged down or overwhelmed, all my standard responses when faced with my tsunami of outstanding tasks.  Mashing up not only allowed me to achieve stuff it made me feel better and that’s got to be a good thing.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Reboot your Reading List

reading list
Reading List by Kurtis Garbutt courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9fv65v https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

We all have a favourite stable of authors we return to again and again. We either devour their new books or we re-read their old books, embracing their familiarity. It is a comforting and enjoyable way to pass the time.

When searching for something new to read, we either try a writer who is recommended as similar to one of the authors on our favourites list or we pick something from within the genres we are most comfortable with.

We never stray too far away from what we know.

That is not necessarily a good thing however for a reader or an author.

Into the unknown
Into the Unknown by Paul Hudson courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/VVe7jg https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Out of My Comfort Zone

A few years ago I was seriously ill. A friend of mine arranged a delivery of books to my house to see me through my months of treatment. There were five or six books in all. None were the kind of books I would have picked for myself. Some were literary reads, others historicals, outside my go to periods of history, some were futuristic but not sci-fi.

I read them all over the months I was laid low. Firstly, because having read the blurbs of each I was intrigued by then and secondly because they had been a present and I would have felt a little mean if I had not read any of them.

My friend had told me that if any of the books did not appeal to me that I could swap them for others, she wouldn’t mind but I didn’t want to do that. It would somehow have cheapened what was a wonderful and thoughtful gift.

Imagine my surprise when whole new worlds I would never have inhabited opened up before me, sucking me in and holding me in their sway.

British library
The British Library by Steve Cadman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/JYedk https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Try Something New

There is definitely something to be said from stepping away from the familiar and reading something new. So next time you are searching for something to read try something from a genre you’ve never read before or, better yet, walk into a book shop and pick up the first book your eyes alight upon.

Reboot your reading list and you’ll be rewarded by discovering new worlds and new writers you would never otherwise have met just like I was.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Surprise, Surprise!

surprise
Surprise by Pedro courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3fdbnf https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a couple of articles to help promote my new novel. I was daunted by the prospect but keen to give it a go nevertheless. I sat down to write and came up with five articles in total. I was amazed. And then I realised I had my blog to thank.

For eighteen months now I have been blogging at least once a week. It was only when I needed to write those articles I realised how many transferrable skills blogging had given me. I could write to deadlines. I could write focussing on a chosen topic. I could write to a set length. I could structure an article with a beginning, middle and end. I could write headlines. All skills I learnt from blogging.

Don’t hold yourself back by thinking you cannot do something. Jump in and have a go.

jump in
Jump In by Lies Vercamere courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/pWBECj https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As writers in the digital age we have a lot of transferrable skills – some we may not even recognise. Experimenting with different types of writing can lead to wonderful new opportunities but it also makes us better writers.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes