The Ups and Downs of being a Writer

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It’s tough being a writer. We are constantly putting our work out there and peeking from behind laced fingers as the reviews roll in, fearing that stray comment that might cut us to the quick. Writers need the hide of a rhinoceros and if you don’t have one yet, you’d better develop one because the life of a writer is not an easy one.

Climbing a mountain

It’s human nature to want to compare yourself to others. It’s also a less attractive part of human nature to want to do better than others. I’m all for having a plan of what you would like to achieve but plans should be adaptable to life’s twists and turns and if you have the basics heat, food, love is the rest really so important?

That said we all chase the figures – numbers of sales, amount of money earned, the number of likes on a page, the number of followers etc., and if we are not too careful this obsession can get out of hand. I’m not saying these things aren’t important but we need to be careful not to obsess over them. I know writers who are constantly logging on to track their sales. The trouble with this is that their mood then tends to be dictated by whether the figures are good or bad. If the figures are good they are at least temporarily happy but if the figures are bad they then start obsessing over why the figures are bad, why don’t people like their books, are they a bad writer and so it goes on.

Figures

Sales go up and down. That’s market forces for you. It doesn’t mean you are a bad writer and your books suck it just means someone else is doing better than you. It’s not you, it’s them. They are having their time in their sun. They have worked hard. They deserve it so don’t begrudge them and don’t catastrophise the situation and dramatically declare you are quitting like one of my friends did recently. Just get back to the keyboard and write. One day, with a bit of luck, it’ll be your turn.

I have always taken quite a sanguine view of the peaks and troughs of my writing career. I find a good sense of humour goes a long way. Here’s a great example, recently I have been trying to build my Twitter followers. I’m doing this organically, no bought in follows or automated this and that. I don’t bombard people with direct messages and I play nice. I’m really pleased at how well it’s been going. I’m not setting the Twittersphere alight but that was never my aim. As I ticked past another milestone I allowed myself a few moments of satisfaction. Then I spotted a basset hound with their own Twitter handle. Every part of my being told me not to look but of course I could not resist. The basset hound had at least 1,000 followers on me (probably double that by now). It was one of those laugh or cry moments. I chose to laugh loudly at the absurdity of it all. And so should you.

Mad world

Happy writing!

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

 

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Artist’s Dates

As some of you will be aware I have recently been reading Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ book which I highly recommend to all writers. There are nuggets to be enjoyed in every chapter. You will, inevitably, recognise yourself in Julia’s wise words, nodding and smiling wryly as you read.

Right to Write_
Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Write-Invitation-Initiation-Writing/dp/178180981X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518280756&sr=8-1&keywords=write+to+right

One of the concepts that Julia introduced me to was the idea of ‘artist’s dates’. We are all familiar with going on dates but we don’t normally take ourselves on one – alone. Here, you do just that.

Romance rose

You choose a day that suits and an activity you know you will find interesting, fascinating or stimulating and off you go. Just you alone. This is a special time for you to commune with your inner self or as Julia puts it you are ‘romancing, wooing, courting your creative self’.

Date Time

You could go to see a play or a movie. You could visit a museum or take in an exhibition. You could go to or take part in a glass blowing demonstration or a workshop on how to make mosaics. You could knit, sew, crochet, draw or paint. You could listen to a talk on a subject of interest or visit a historic landmark. Take a walk in an ancient wood or along an unfamiliar coast line. The only limits are the ones you place on yourself.

Museum

Julia suggests going on these excursions once a week to refill the creative well. With a busy schedule, once a week is a little optimistic for me but I have been achieving an artist’s date once a fortnight and it has been an uplifting and inspiring experience. We’re in the grip of winter in the UK so my activities have been largely based indoors: an exhibition of black and white photos, a mindfulness meditation session, an exhibition of landscape paintings and a past life regression. I am looking forward to the spring when I can widen my horizons further.

Whilst I have no definite plans to include any of the things I have done or seen in future stories I am pretty certain they will filter down into a work in progress at some stage and I will be excited to see how that turns out. In the meantime, now that I know the joy and freedom of an artist’s date, they will remain a firm addition to my calendar.

Autum open road

Why not give them a try and see where they take you?

Happy writing!

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

 

Putting the FUN back in your writing

Following on from last week’s blog about remembering that writing is meant to be fun, I took a look at my own writing world – several works in progress at different stages of completion, a desk covered in notes about Pinterest boards to be created, advertising campaigns to organise, podcasts to listen to and articles to read. A tsunami of to-do-lists and to-finish-lists. Is it any wonder that I’ve lost touch with the joy that used to sit at the heart of my writing?

frustration2

Fun, Fun, Fun!

I decided enough was enough, it was time to put the fun back into writing. When I catch myself being far too serious I find the best way to jolly myself out of it is to write. Not the work in progress. Not even something that might become a work in progress but something completely new, of the moment, to be created, enjoyed and left.

Fun3

Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction usually does it for me. I have a dictionary of phrase and fable (a guaranteed rabbit hole to disappear into if you want to lose an hour) which I open at a random page, stab my finger down and whatever it points to, I give myself 500 or 1,000 words to write a piece of flash fiction that incorporates it. If the dictionary isn’t near at hand, I’ll use a magazine instead. It’s amazing the kind of subjects you can find yourself writing about when a copy of Cosmopolitan is close by!

The beauty of this exercise is that you are free – forget genres, forget writing styles, forget targets and plans. Just flex your creative muscle and see where it leads you. You might be a romantic novelist who writes in the third person by day but for this exercise you might find yourself writing gothic horror in the first person. A literary heavyweight could discover their comic alter ego, a chick lit aficionado could let out her gory crime other self. The point is to let yourself go, to have FUN.

Forget the rules, forget who you think you are as a writer and just write. You will be amazed where it takes you and when it’s time to put the games away and get back to the work in progress you will hopefully find having let your creative self off the leash for a bit, you return to your work energised and re-engaged.

Happy writing!

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

 

Remember that writing is meant to be FUN!

Resolutions

I belong to a writing group and I suggested that we each write out our writing resolutions for the year and read them aloud to the group. I then collected them in and said I would bring them out again at our mid summer social event so we could all check in with how we were doing and once more at our Christmas get together to hold the Inquest into whether we had hit all our targets and if not, why not.

I made several writing resolutions of my own, the last of which is “To remember that writing is meant to be fun”.

 

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Where did the fun go?

It is all too easy to forget this when a once innocent past time that gave us so much joy in the early days morphs into a career with all the attendant pressures that come with deadlines and running a business.

A writing friend gave me Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ book to read. If you haven’t read it do get hold of a copy, I promise you will not be disappointed. It is written in such an engaging and open way that you are quickly transported to Julia’s world but at the same time you recognise yourself in her words. I found myself muttering ‘That’s me, I do that.’ and, often, ‘I thought it was just me who felt like that.’

Right to Write_
Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Write-Invitation-Initiation-Writing/dp/178180981X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518280756&sr=8-1&keywords=write+to+right

Julia is a pro who has been there and done it and got the scars to prove it. Along with a lot of practical advice and good dollops of common sense, Julia reminded herself and us that writing is meant to be fun. Such a simple statement and yet so easy to overlook in the tangle of our everyday writing lives.

If writing has become a slog or a duty to be performed rather than an activity to be enjoyed, those feelings of disengagement and disillusionment will filter down through the words on the page. If we’re doing it because we think we should and the heart is a bystander the reader will be able to tell.

Writing is a passionate, visceral, all encompassing relationship between the writer and the page. If we’re dialling the work in, it will show and we won’t be capable of producing our best work.

If that sounds like you, take a step back from the work in progress and cast your mind back to when writing was fun.

Fun keyboard

What’s changed? Perhaps you had the innocence of naïvety to sustain you, the expectation that a big deal was just around the corner. Now, the school of hard knocks has taught you otherwise. Perhaps it’s the work itself that is the problem, are you stuck in a rut, writing a particular book because you think you should when your heart yearns to be writing something completely different.

If you can stand back and look at the wider landscape you should be able to see why you are not completely engaging with your writing and, more importantly, what you can do to recapture the joy and bring it back to your work.

Happy writing!

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

 

For the love of Autumn

The mornings are chillier now and the trees are starting to lose their leaves. In the evenings, the darkness that once crept across the garden stealthily now drops in with all the subtlety of a hammer on a nail.

Spring and summer may be my favourite seasons but once I have adjusted to saying goodbye to summer, there’s plenty about autumn I love too.

The Beauty of Pie

There’s the food for a start. No more light lunches and healthy salads. Now is the time to bring out the casserole dish and let a tasty stew simmer in the oven for a couple of hours, the delicious smells permeating the kitchen and whetting my appetite or batch cooking some pies with beautiful flaky pastry.

Pie
Pie by Darren Foreman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/7H5RfV https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Autumn Leaves

Taking Willow for a walk is always a favourite past time but at this time of year it’s fun to scrunch our way through fallen leaves, then watch as Willow snuffles her way underneath them as more leaves pirouette down around us borne on the breeze.

Autumn leaves
Autumn Leaves by Liz West courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/gAuFeK https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For me there is nothing better than a bracing walk in a fresh wind and then home to a brimming mug of hot chocolate or tomato soup to warm me up.

Reading Time

But there’s something even better about the change of seasons. Now that the dark nights are here, I’m always gripped by the desire to snuggle down on a comfy sofa, wrapped in a soft throw and indulge in my love of reading without feeling guilty.

Of course I still read when the sun is shining and the days are blissfully long but when the weather is fine I’m usually out and about or pottering in the garden. Reading takes a back seat to doing in the summer time.

Reading nook
Reading Nook by Wicker Paradise courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/f6QBtA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When the autumn comes, it’s time for a change. I give myself permission to slow down. It is a sort of hibernation, I suppose. I look forward to my nights snuggled up cosy with a good book. I welcome the ritual of choosing a group of books to read between now and Christmas. Then studying the covers and the blurbs and deciding which book will be first, which second and then third. With an eclectic taste, I often choose different genres. I usually have a couple of bankers, I know I’ll enjoy with perhaps the odd wildcard thrown in for good measure. New or old, you can’t beat the smell, feel and experience of a real book.

So that’s what I’ll be doing between now and Christmas. How about you?

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

 

My own little piece of Chelsea

Summer flowers
Summer Flowers – Ellie Holmes

The Chelsea Flower Show was recently held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in London. Possibly the most famous flower show in the world, it attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. Crazily intricate show gardens are constructed from nowhere and dismantled after just a few days from elaborate gardens in Main Avenue to smaller, more intimate gardens that can inspire, challenge and delight.

I have visited Chelsea on several occasions although I prefer its slightly less celebrated cousin Hampton Court. I may not have the greenest of fingers and my garden may be a triumph of optimism over horticultural knowledge but my own little piece of Chelsea inspires, challenges and delights me every bit as much as a show garden and at a fraction of the price.

Summer flowers2
Summer colour – Ellie Holmes

Whilst small my garden is also a haven for wildlife; birds, bees and butterflies are regular and welcome visitors. As an organic gardener, the bugs are a challenge but I appreciate they all have their place in the grand scheme of things and we each of us go about our business leaving the other pretty much alone. This spring I even had a hedgehog in the garden (I think he or she may have been hibernating in the compost heap or behind the shed).

A gardening expert would probably tut and shake their heads at some of my planting combinations. Certainly, I would not win any medals but my garden is not about showing off. It is about relaxation and calm, colour and inspiration. We all need a little beauty to feed our souls and each day, in different ways, my garden provides that. I think that is better than any medal.

Hosta heaven
Hosta heaven – Ellie Holmes