I finished my novel last weekend. High fives and glasses of wine all round. It’s gone off to my editor. Before I know it, it will be back with a myriad amendments to be made but for now, I have planted the words ‘The End’ like a flag on a mountain top.
Whenever I reach the end of a novel I always feel a huge sense of relief. Relief that I went to the well and there were words there to find. Relief that I had an idea and a half decent novel emerged from it. Relief that those characters that I thought about and worked so hard to create have taken on lives beyond those I imagined for them. I gave them wings and away they flew. Relief that I can still do it. I can still pull it off. I can still spin a plot and weave the magic. The muse hasn’t abandoned me. Yet.
Am I alone in my feelings of relief? I often wonder about that. Do other writers experience joy, happiness and pride when they reach the end of their novels? I am always so drained by the end of the writing journey that those feelings occur further down the road to publication. At the instant I finish and for the immediate days after, relief is all I feel.
It is not relief that the writing is over, you understand because I am always writing. There are always a dozen ideas waiting to be developed and explored. It is relief that I can still do my job. I am still a writer.
The relief comes hot on the tail of the fear that stalks me: that one day the words will not come, that the plot will not gel, nor the characters take flight. One day I will have an idea and not do it justice. One day I will not be able to capture lightning in a bottle. One day I will fail.
I have a friend who came to me recently wanting my advice. We met up for a drink and she talked me through the situation she found herself in. I nodded as she spoke, asked questions were appropriate but mostly I just listened.
She gave me a potted history of what had led up to the latest drama, where she was at now, what the problem was and what the possible solutions were. I interjected very little letting her give full vent to her feelings. I got the distinct impression she had been putting a lid on her feelings until she met me and so, like a pressure cooker that has had the lid firmly clamped on for a little too long, once the pressure was released and she was in a safe environment where she could talk without being judged, she rattled away, letting off all that pent up emotion.
I have had a lot of experience of the ups and downs of life but I am no wiser or better informed than the next person. I am as capable of stuffing up as everyone else. I could offer no dazzling insight or straightforward solution just a dollop of common sense. But as it happened, I didn’t even need to give that because my friend, as her discourse was winding down, reached that conclusion herself without any prompting from me.
Looking far happier by the end of our time together than she had at the beginning, my friend gave me a hug. “I knew you’d be the right person to talk to about this. You always give good advice.” I felt flattered by her comments but thoroughly undeserving of them. I had hardly offered any advice during our time together, good or otherwise. I’d barely got a word in.
It’s a life changing sum of money but there have been plenty of instances of lottery winners who thought their dreams had come true only to see that dream turn into a nightmare because money isn’t everything and a large sum of money can bring with it a complex set of problems alongside the flying champagne corks and I’m not talking about whether you should buy a yacht or a sports car or both.
Squabbles amongst families and rising tensions between husbands and wives are the stories that hit the headlines months and years after the champagne has gone flat. It isn’t the money itself that tears people apart rather it has a way of exacerbating the fault lines that already existed in a relationship before the potent mix of lots of money got added to the pot.
It’s good to aim high. It’s lovely to have dreams. Just make sure your foundations are solid before you start reaching for the stars or have them handed to you on a plate.
Be true to yourself.
Tell the people you care about that you love them.
Show that love in what you do not just in what you say.
Take pleasure from the simple things in life – a leaf caught on the breeze, a beautiful sunset, a roaring fire.
Cherish happy times.
Look for the good in people.
Give second chances to yourself and to others.
Smile even if your heart is breaking
Practice random acts of kindness.
Remember that somewhere inside all of us there is a clock ticking so don’t waste precious moments on those who don’t deserve your time.
Never be afraid to live, laugh or love.
Don’t strive to be happy because happiness is ephemeral. Strive for contentment instead.
To find time for all the things we have to do in life is bad enough. For a lot of writers the situation is even worse. Writing often isn’t the day job. Writing is the job we do after/before/around the day job. It may once have been a hobby but has become, often to our delight, another career. If you are an indie or hybrid author, you also have to balance all the business demands that have to be met. If you are not careful that delight can turn to overload and then panic which usually results in you being less productive and extremely stressed. Not the position you want to be in when you are trying to make your dreams come true.
The work of a writer is labour intensive. The business side of it equally so. Most of us don’t have the luxury of employing staff or even have willing family or friends to whom we could farm out some duties. In any event, most writers are control freaks who even if offered competent help would probably turn it down in fear of what might happen if they relinquish the reins of control.
When your one time hobby becomes a job, especially a second job, how do you ever find time for a new hobby that takes you out of yourself and gives you a chance to relax?
We are not designed to be Duracell bunnies, happily banging cymbals together without any down time. It may be sustainable for a short stretch of time but you cannot live like that for long without the cracks starting to show either in your health, your relationships or the fact you start making mistakes.
We are all familiar with the timeless plot of many stories. You know how it goes – our hero/heroine finds themselves downtrodden and put upon, then has to find a way to improve their lot and achieve a happy ending. A lot of writers are living that plot but without the happy ending.
Next week I will share some of the tips I have adopted to help me get the work done but not lose my sanity along the way.
All writers deserve a happy ending to the work/life balance conundrum and there isn’t a one size fits all answer so I am keen to hear how you manage your writing time and what strategies you adopt when you feel your work/life balance getting out of control.
When I first made the decision that I wanted to be a published author I knew it would involve a lot of hard work. What I didn’t appreciate was how many other people all harboured the same dream. Naïve at the way the business worked, I wrongly assumed that if you were good enough you would make it. The knowledge that there were only a limited number of slots available per genre, per publisher, per year had not yet filtered down to me.
Over the years the realities of the business began to sink in. It was not only that there were limited slots available but some of those slots were taken up by existing authors being given space for their second, third and fourth books. The spaces left for debut novelists continued to be squeezed. With unproven track records, it was a hard sell to convince the money men to take a risk on an unknown particularly if lucrative money could be made enticing a celebrity on board instead. The saving grace for the publisher being that at least the celebrity would bring with them a readymade market (or so they hoped!).
The traditional publishing world is still like that. Serendipity can put a debut novelist in the right place at the right time but it can often be a long waiting game. With the advent of self-publishing as an affordable and completely doable process, the avenues now open to writers have increased.
Self-publishing has been a game changer for the indie authors who have embraced these new opportunities and for the old world agents and publishers who are grappling to assimilate what it will mean for their business models and the world of books as a whole. The term hybrid author is now on everyone’s lips – someone who has a traditional deal but who is also an indie author for some of their work.
Self-publishing has given the power of making decisions back to the author and we are very fortunate to live in this brave, new world.
Once upon a time I thought my writing career would be pretty linear. I would write a book, get an agent, they would sell the book to a traditional publisher and I would be published. After experiencing a few false dawns along the way, I eventually came to realise that those whose paths are linear are pretty lucky and few and far between. The rest of us will have a much more challenging road to follow to publication, full of twists and turns, the occasional dead end and some interesting rest stops along the way.
My own route was more country road than motorway but that’s okay. I saw a lot more of the landscape of the publishing industry during the journey, I learned about the business of writing but I also became a better writer simply because I’d been doing it longer and (hopefully!) learning from my mistakes.
I think the journey has stood me in good stead for the new challenges that are to come. There may have been times when I lost heart for a while but looking back now, I am glad I took the scenic route.
A couple of weeks ago my new book arrived. Twenty shiny advance reader copies ready for dispatch for people to read and hopefully, if I am lucky, review. I had the epub and the mobi files too of course but looking at a computer file on the screen is not the same as seeing and holding the physical copy.
Expected on a Monday, they arrived on a Saturday so when the delivery driver rang the bell I went to the door not in a state of heightened excitement but my default setting of bemusement with a slight hint of annoyance as I had been hard at work in the study.
Once I realised what he was delivering my air of annoyance evaporated. I gladly signed for them and carried them in. That was the first wake up call. Two boxes of ten books are heavy. Suddenly this thing I had been working on for so long had substance and form. What had begun as an idea had somehow magically transformed into a real life book.
As I went to open the box, I had a moment of sharp regret. My mum had very much been looking forward to sharing this moment with me but she was no longer here and so holding the first book in my hands was a bittersweet moment as I thought not just of her but also of my dad who wanted this moment for me perhaps even more than I wanted it for myself. I knew more than anything they would want me to celebrate the achievement rather than be sad so I made a concerted effort to pull myself together.
I felt a deep sense of achievement as I studied the book. The cover looked amazing – I remembered how determined I was to work with a particular cover designer, how thrilled I was when she took the commission. I remembered agonising as I wrote up a brief for her, never having done one of those before. I remembered being too scared to open the email when the first proofs of the cover arrived because so much was riding on it and what if I hated them? (I didn’t!)
I turned the book over and studied the back. Months of work were contained within that glossy cover. Tortuous research and hundreds of decisions came flooding back. Writing the blurb. Urgh! What a task. So crucial. So specialist. I am a 100k word kind of girl, not a copywriter. But I became one.
The author photo. I remembered the fun and games that had gone into finding a photographer and a hair and make up specialist, the agony of the photoshoot itself – they were great, I was petrified. Fortunately, they were so great it didn’t show.
Next to the author photo is the bar code and the ISBN. I remembered all the reading I had done about ISBNs – do you buy your own or not? I decided to buy. A whole new world of, if not exactly pain then acute discomfort, opened up for me. Ah the delights of my application form to Nielsen! You want to know what? I don’t even know what that is let alone how to answer it! Somehow I made it through their form and must have made a pretty good attempt at it because ten ISBNs duly arrived. Either that or they took pity on me.
Below the photo and the ISBN is my web address and if you have been reading this blog for a while you will be familiar with the trials and tribulations of creating my website before I got the wonderful Aimee Coveney on board at www.authordesignstudio.com You can read the blog post here https://goo.gl/CQ08Yt
Opening the book up I recalled the pleasant(!) afternoon I had spent ensconced in the study researching front matter and end matter and creating a page of legalese. I pulled a handful of books from the shelf and studied the layout of these pages. Funny how you never notice these things as a reader.
The dedication was easy. I had always known what that was going to be. So too the Acknowledgments. This has been a long time coming. In best Oscar mode, there were a lot of people to thank.
But wait. I have skipped to the back of the book. What about the book itself? The decisions on how the book should be laid out came back to me. Who knew there were so many choices? Basically, we only notice as readers if this has been done badly. Again, I chose a handful of books across genres from my shelves. Six books. Six slightly different lay outs. Only one leapt out at me as nice and easy to read. That’s the one I went for.
It has taken sixteen months from the moment I made the decision to self publish to finally holding the ARC copy of my book in my hand. Sixteen months of phenomenally hard work. A learning curve steeper than the north face of the Eiger. This is, of course, neatly leaving to one side the years of work that went into creating the story itself.
I am proud that I wrote it but writing is what I do. It is innate. Producing a printed book, however, takes authors into places we would never normally stray. Having trodden the path and come out the other side holding a book that was as good as I wanted it to be was a hell of an achievement. I still get a little frisson of pride whenever I pick it up. I say ‘it’ because no sooner had the books come in than they were winging their way back out of the door to their prospective readers and reviewers. I have one copy left but that too is destined to fly the nest shortly. Then I will have to wait for the proper, non-ARC copies to arrive and experience the thrill all over again.
Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my debut novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday
The Flower Seller Kindle edition is now available to pre-order from Amazon via my website http://goo.gl/0Gv8Jg