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.

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The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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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

 

Are You Kidding Yourself?

The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves

We all lie to ourselves occasionally. ‘I’m happy as I am.’ ‘He loves me.’ ‘I love him.’ ‘I’ll work less hard.’ ‘I’ll make more time for me.’ Sound familiar? We are all guilty of it but the biggest lies we tell are often the ones we tell ourselves and that’s the brutal truth.

Catching ourselves in the act is, of course, never easy, particularly if the lies are long standing ones. Ironically it is often easier to spot when others are doing it. You meet a friend for coffee and listen to her latest dramas – work related or romantic and think: ‘Her life would be so much better if she would just go for that promotion and/or dump him’. You might even offer some gentle advice to which your friend will smile serenely and say, ‘I’m happy as I am.’

Being that honest with yourself however is tough. Sometimes we have lived with our own lies for months, if not years. They have become a part of us. They are a comfort blanket to shield us from a cold, harsh world. They are our friends or so we think.

Comfort blanket

In reality, the lies are holding us back, trapping us in the safe yet restricting surroundings we feel most comfortable in. Beyond those boundaries another world exists. One where you can be yourself without compromise or deceit. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Getting there, however, is the tricky bit. Fessing up is never easy however good it may be for your soul.

Quiet time
How not to manage an introvert? By Nguyen Hung Vu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

In my novel White Lies it is only when the three main characters face up to the reality of their situations that they are ready to start over and become the people they have always wanted to be.

Frequently the lies we tell ourselves are a protection mechanism to shield us from an unpleasant reality or to stop ourselves facing up to a problem we need to tackle.

People shy away from change because we like to cling to the familiar even if ultimately it is making us unhappy but it’s through change that we learn and grow.

stagnant water
Stagnant water by Bossi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6K97yF https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Picture a pool of stagnating water – dark and murky, choked with weeds. Not a great image, is it? Now picture a babbling brook, flowing freely over pebbles, gushing and gurgling, giving life, enhancing life. Which would you rather be? Stuck convincing yourself that nothing needs to change or taking your courage in your hands and becoming a better version of you.

Gentle brook
Gentle Brook by Andrew T Thrasher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0 https://flic.kr/p/vhXYNm https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

Owning up to a lie is the first step in the right direction. Only when you have done that can you begin to see there are other choices available, new directions you can take.

Honesty is the best policy

Don’t sell yourself short. Be your own best friend. Have that conversation with yourself. Honesty really is the best policy as your gran used to say.

Change is scary but it can be exhilarating and life-affirming too so be brave.

And the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I am happy as I am’ you may actually mean it.

Smile2
Smile by Jens Bergander courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

To Still a Busy Mind

I was either going to crash and burn and that was not going to be pretty or I was going to pull back and find a better way to live my life. As you will be aware if you have read my earlier blogs on meditation this was something I wanted to do but had yet to perfect how to do it.

Taking lessons from my less than stellar beginning, I decided the sofa in the sitting room would be a better location. I also decided twenty minutes of guided meditation first thing in the morning while the tea was brewing would be a good starting point for the day.

Dandelion
Dandelion by Coen Dijkman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3GXXg2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I also found a better guided meditation. There are hundreds to choose from. It is all a question of what suits you best. I found some talked too much – it is hard to concentrate on your breathing and still your mind when you have someone yabbering away incessantly in your ear. It is also crucial to find a voice that does not get on your nerves – hard to relax if the way they speak is grating on you. All this takes a little experimentation. Eventually I found the perfect meditation for me. A soothing voice, helpful instructions and crucially long periods of quiet when nothing is said at all. Perfect.

Bubbles
Bubbles by Stellajo1976 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ajYXq8 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For two weeks I began my day with the same guided meditation session. Did I notice a difference? I had been prepared for a slow burn, signs of improvement but gradually probably over weeks if not months. The change, however, was much more immediate than that. I began sleeping right through the night, every night – not waking up at 2.00 a.m. and struggling to get back to sleep, my mind teeming. Because I was sleeping better, I was also waking up better, refreshed and ready to get up instead of clinging to the duvet. I also noticed that I was so chilled after my morning session that I went about my routine without any stress or rushing about. I lost the habit of checking the clock and yet when I was ready to leave the house and I did glance at the clock I was early. Life seemed so much easier than it had before.

calm
Calm by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fcVB51 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Like any new habit you need to stick with it long enough that it becomes second nature. That is my next challenge but when the benefits have been so positive, it’s a challenge worth taking on.

If you are any doubt whether meditation is for you give it a go but make sure you give it a go over a long enough period that you have chance to experience the benefits. Twenty minutes a day for two weeks was ideal for me and even the busiest of us can squeeze in an extra twenty minutes can’t we?

 

Procrastination – to do it or not to do it?

I bet you’re like me, there are jobs to be done, there is even time to do them in and yet somehow they always slip down the list of priorities and languish at the bottom while new, more exciting tasks sail in ahead of them.

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Procrastination by Rachel Fisher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9bwvsv https://goo.gl/OOAQfn

I am a procrastinator. I don’t want to be. I’d like to train myself not to be but it is a difficult path to tread as the habit is a long held one and tough to break.

The really annoying thing about being a procrastinator is the fact that the whole time I am steadfastly ignoring the tasks I can never really succeed in forgetting about them. They are always there, catching my attention and reminding me of my inability to get jobs done. A constant, low level, niggle at the back of my mind. So, procrastinating does not make me feel better. It actually makes me feel worse. And yet, I still do it!

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Procrastinators Unite by Andreas Gohr courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/5Zjyu7 https://goo.gl/OOAQfn

Of equal annoyance is the fact that when, finally, I do get around to dealing with the things I have been putting off, most of the time I find they are not that time consuming, nor difficult nor troublesome which leaves me wondering why it was such a struggle for me to get on with them in the first place. And oh the blessed relief I feel when I can tick that irksome job off my stuff to do list. Now that is a good feeling.

We all live such busy lives. We are all overburdened with duties and chores. It’s all too easy to eschew the boring and routine and concentrate instead on the more interesting aspects of our lives but unless we’re wealthy enough to employ others to do our bidding, we are all going to have to tackle those dull tasks some time.

I am going to try to make a concerted effort not to put things off for any longer than absolutely necessary. I am going to start small and work up to the big stuff. I am determined this is the year I am going to GET STUFF DONE. Wish me luck. I will try to let you know how I get on – assuming I get around to writing that particular blog, of course 😉

finish-line
Finish Line by Sean MacEntee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/82V5JK https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x