Don’t fence yourself in

Fence
Fence by Arnel courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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Bravery takes a lot of forms. To step up and put yourself forward to do something for your local community is brave, to defend someone who is being bullied when they are too beaten down to defend themselves is brave, to return to the hospital for your next bout of chemo even though you know you are going to spend the next twenty-four hours being sick is brave.

Some bravery is obvious to anyone looking on. Most bravery, however, is a subtle, very personal thing. The person silently coping with depression, the person moving slowly through the grieving process for someone dear to them, the single person battling loneliness. Getting up to face another day is an act of bravery for people like this, a supreme effort where the only satisfaction comes from challenging themselves and not giving in.

I try
I try I fail I never give up by Julie Jordan Scott courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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We all have different boundaries. What may seem easy to one person could be a mountain to climb for another. A while ago I was listening to a drive time show on my home. They had been running a call in for people to ring in with stories of a ‘first’ that they wished to achieve. The idea being the show would run a follow up in a couple of weeks’ time to see how they had all got on. There was one story that captured my attention.

A quietly spoken man rang in (an act of bravery in itself). I cannot recall now if he had been suffering from agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces) or something similar but the first he wished to achieve was catching the bus from the end of his road, riding the bus to his nearby town, getting off the bus and going to a café for a cup of tea and then making the journey home again.

There was something about his softly spoken but determined manner that made you listen. He told us how he had been practicing by walking up to the bus stop and then going home again, how he had studied the bus route so he would know which stop to get off at, how he had been rehearsing ordering his tea at the café. He then admitted the trip was something he had been trying to do for a while now and had always failed often getting to the bus stop but simply being unable to bring himself to board the bus.

But he had decided he couldn’t continue like this and needed to challenge his fears and by publicly declaring his intention it was almost a dare to himself. His story moved me and I thought about him often in the intervening two weeks, wondering how he was getting on. I pictured him clutching his timetable nervously, counting out his change to the driver, alighting at the café (or so I hoped).

Keep trying
Keep trying by Damian Gadal courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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I eagerly awaited an update. The radio show ran the follow up piece and covered many of the other ‘firsts’ but there was no mention of the man undertaking the bus journey. ‘Oh no!’ I thought ‘He’s failed to do it. How devastating for him.’ But I was wrong. Such had been the overwhelming interest in the man’s story, so many hearts had he touched with his modest tale, that they were giving him his own follow up slot the next day.

I tuned in and the man slowly began to recount what, for him, had been a momentous journey. He described his nervousness on the walk to the bus stop, his anxiety that the bus wouldn’t turn up or if it did he would not be able to summon up the courage to board it (as had happened so many times before). As a listener I lived and breathed every part of that journey with him. When he made it to the café and ordered his tea I was punching the air in triumph for him and when he laughed and said it was the best cup of tea he had ever drunk I had tears in my eyes.

Success
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It was a simple tale of one man’s struggle, one man’s sheer determination to overcome a barrier to him living the kind of life he wanted to lead but it touched a nerve with a lot of other people. He joked that his next goal was to go away on holiday. I hope he achieved that aim. I like to think he did.

There are enough boundaries put on our lives by circumstance, social convention or lifestyle. It’s so important that wherever possible we don’t let fear hold us back or fence us in. We mustn’t settle. We must be like that man on the bus and take our courage in our hands and be brave. He was glad he did it and we will be too.

Broken fencejpg
Trail view with broken fence by Buddha Dog courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes is available from Amazon now http://goo.gl/g4L7oY

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The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

 

 

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Bumps in the road

Bumpy ride
Bumpy Ride by Ruth Hartnup courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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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.

Outnumbered
Outnumbered by Quinn Mattingly courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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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.

Crossroad
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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.

Twisting road
Twisting road by Kevin Gessner courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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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.

Scenic route
Terras Crossing 2 by Robert Pittman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes is now on sale at Amazon http://goo.gl/UrHYRb

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The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

The Perfect Sentence?

On Monday I blogged about the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi – the art of appreciating beauty in an imperfect world. Novelists should embrace the concept of wabi sabi. For writers who strive to create the perfect sentence are not only likely to fail but drive themselves nuts in the process.

Wabi sabi
Wabi-Sabi by Kelly Teague courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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Anne Lamott in her excellent book ‘Bird by Bird’ extols the virtues of ‘writing a shitty first draft’ and I applaud her for it. Write the story that is buzzing around in your head, capture those characters, their voices and their hopes and fears. Don’t worry about the story arc or a particular character’s journey. Don’t try to craft the perfect sentence, scene or chapter. Just write the story. Capture its essence, it’s heart. If you love it, others will too.

The rest will come on the second run through and countless edits but if you write with the handbrake off and let the story explode out of your head and through your fingers and on to the screen or page if you write longhand, the spirit of the story will shine through.

Shine
Shine by Rodnei Reis courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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When you come to start the edits try to get the concept of the perfect sentence out of your head. We all want to write the best books we can but if you get hung up on the little details you will find the editing process a constant source of frustration instead of the joy it can become as we see our book grow with each change and rewrite.

You need to do enough to shape the book into all it can be but not so much that you deaden the writing and lose the essence of what you worked so hard to capture in the first place. It’s a delicate balancing act but one worth pursuing and far more worthwhile than wasting your time and energy chasing the perfect sentence.

Balance2
Egg balanced on forks by Clint Budd courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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If such a thing as the perfect sentence exists and one day you create it you can allow yourself a moment’s pride. But remember a perfect sentence does not make a novel. It’s the thousands of other imperfect sentences that will make the difference. Novels are wabi sabi and that’s okay by me.

Open Book
Open Book Pages by Jo Naylor courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Triumph and Disaster

There is a quote above the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon, the home of lawn tennis, that is taken from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If (written in 1895 and published in 1910). The quote is ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same’. The message of the line and indeed the poem is that it is important to maintain your equilibrium and not be swayed or over react to either the good or the bad but hold a steady path.

Ifjpg
If by Rudyard Kipling by J. Brew courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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I was reminded of that in the last couple of weeks as I launched my debut novel The Flower Seller. I have received some lovely reviews – a couple have moved me to tears but Kipling’s quote kept coming back to me. It is important to remember that the reviewers are reviewing my work not me. It is easy to get caught up in the wrong mindset. As writers we put our hearts and souls into our books. We want them to succeed but more than anything we want people to say nice things about them. Once a book is out there in the big, wide world however, we can no longer control who reads it or what they say about it. This is another reason why it is important to hold on to who you are rather than let your mood be swayed by what you do and how people react to it.

Weight of the world
Weight of the world by Britt-Knee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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Receiving great reviews is a wonderful feeling but you still have to go back to work and write the next book. Glowing comments can make you feel good. You should be proud of the achievement of having completed a novel. Even bad books are hard work to write. But you shouldn’t carry the baggage of reviews back to the keyboard with you. If you are not careful good reviews will have you paralysed as you struggle with the problems of your next story and suddenly as well as all your normal gripes and writing hang ups you will find you have developed a new set centred around the concept of ‘the next book will never be as good as the last’. If you want to write anything at all, good or bad, you will have to shut out all of the reviews your previous work has received or else risk being hamstrung by them.

Haywire
Haywire by Porsche Brosseau courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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I have been lucky so far with regard to bad reviews. But they will come because all authors get them. I was warned recently not to read any one or two star reviews EVER. Once you read them the words will be on a replay loop in your mind and you will either be hurt by the views or stung by the injustice if you don’t agree with them. They will also follow you back to the keyboard and lurk in your psyche. When you are at your lowest and gripped by the absolute certainty that you cannot write a good sentence to save your life that is when they will pounce and every word of those sharp reviews will cut you again.

Shred me
Shred me by David Goehring courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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One things is certain, you will never forget them. Ask sportspeople about their greatest triumphs and they will smile and recount their feelings. Ask them about their losses and the pain will be etched deeply on their faces as if it happened only yesterday instead of weeks, months or years ago. They will recall the smallest detail surrounding the loss and admit they still think about how things could have been done differently.

The pain of defeat seems to outweigh the joy we feel over triumph.

As writers we can save ourselves from the pain by not reading the bad reviews. The bravest of us would be strong enough to resist reading any review. I am not that brave but I am going to try my best to exist in my bubble and not let any review, good or bad, influence my work when I next sit down to write. Wish me luck!

Protected
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This is the latest in my series of writing related blogs. My debut novel The Flower Seller is now on sale http://goo.gl/UrHYRb

9780993446306
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

 

Are we there yet?

Today is the launch day for my debut novel The Flower Seller. The Flower Seller has had a long and tortuous road to publication and if it’s tangled journey has taught me anything it is that patience and stickability are talents every writer needs.

Waiting
Waiting by Stephanous Riosetiawan courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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It is all too easy to write a rough draft, edit it and think job done. For the lucky few that’s all it takes. For the rest of us edits, polishes and rewrites are the name of the game.

Finally you reach the point where your manuscript is polished to within an inch of its life and it is time to let it fly into the world. If you are fortunate, as I was, an agent will offer you a contract and you might think it’s only a matter of time until I reach my goal of being published.

Lovebook
Agape by Marcelino Rapayla Junior courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Sometimes, however, despite the best endeavours of your agent and some very complimentary comments about your writing, no offer is forthcoming and you realise it’s not going to be that straightforward after all.

After ten years of plugging away, I decided to go the self-publishing route as I didn’t want to wait any longer for the phone to ring or the email to arrive. I wanted to take my destiny into my own hands. After all, if I didn’t believe in me how could I expect other people to?

I got to grips with Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and platform building. I read countless articles on a hundred different aspects of the publishing industry. I hired experts to assist me where I needed help and the bits that I thought I could manage I figured out myself. Every time I mastered something new, I sat back and thought ‘Right, I’m nearly there now!’ How wrong could I be?! Maintaining a social media presence never stops. It is constantly evolving and you have to be there evolving with it, trying new things, being present.

Spinning Fire
Spinning Fire by Gavin St. Ours courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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As I mentioned at the start of this blog post today is publication day for The Flower Seller. It is the realisation of a major life goal. A long held dream achieved. Job done? I’d like to think so but I know better now. The truth is ‘the job’ is never done. The Flower Seller is published, that is all and when the champagne has all been drunk the real work begins: marketing the book, spreading the word and, of course, writing the next one.

Are we there yet
Are we there yet? By Gerald Brazell courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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I have come to learn the hard way that in publishing the job is never done, the journey is never over. A brand new journey is always beginning so we’d better try to enjoy the ride.

Enjoy the ride
Seya by Dan Century courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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Today’s blog is the latest of my writing related blogs to celebrate the launch of The Flower Seller – available now at Amazon http://goo.gl/UrHYRb

9780993446306
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

 

The reality of being a writer

I was asked recently what I had dreamed of doing when I was a child. My answer was that I had always wanted to be a writer and so I guess you could say I am living the dream but as is so often the case the reality of something is usually quite different to how we imagined it would be.

Living the dream
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My younger self imagined life as a writer would involve:-

  1. Wafting around in a series of glamorous outfits.
  2. Occasionally sitting down to write when the muse took me.
  3. A view of the sea through my open study windows, the curtains softly billowing in the warm summer breeze.
  4. Meeting deadlines with effortless ease.
  5. Feeling relaxed, fulfilled and at peace doing what I love.
  6. Doing what I wanted, when I wanted.
  7. Making lots of money.

What a lovely way to live!

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A room with a view by Ellie Holmes Author

My adult self can only look on in wonder at the innocence of the world through a child’s eyes. I particularly blame Dallas for my idea that writers wafted around in glamorous outfits! Donna Krebbs you have a lot to answer for!

And now to the reality:-

  1. Wearing battered jeans most of the time – especially when I don’t leave the house for days on end. I haven’t yet succumbed to writing in my PJs but give it another couple of years…..
  2. Making myself sit at my desk at least for some period of time every day whether the elusive muse is with me or not.
  3. A view of my car parked on the drive and next door’s front door. If I had my windows open a chilly easterly wind would be blowing most of the time.
  4. Stressing about the fact I am committing myself to publishing something by a certain date that I haven’t even started yet.
  5. Feeling tired, overwrought and lacking in confidence 80% of the time.
  6. With one eye on my deadlines, always playing ‘Can I afford the time…’ in my head for everything else.
  7. Watching every penny.
Will write for food
Will write for food by Ritesh Nayak courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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It’s not the fantasy world my childhood self envisaged but would I change it? I don’t think so. Writers want to live in their heads and so long as we can do that to a certain degree, we are fulfilled.

Smile2
Smile by Jens Bergander courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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The material rewards may not be on offer to the vast majority but what would we do with all that money anyway? We’d probably just buy a better computer and a fancy chair. The beautiful view would be wasted on us and the glamorous outfits would get all creased and covered with crumbs of chocolate.

The reality of life for most writers is very different from what the majority of people imagine it to be. But in answer to the question – am I living the dream? Yes, I am.

I get to write. Every day if I want. What could be better than that?

Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my debut novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday

 

 

Writing with the handbrake off

Editing a rough draft is a skill that is learned over time, knowing how much to add, what to take away, what to work on so that each scene begins to sing. Trial and error are a writer’s constant companions and that is why writers should never be afraid. Okay, it’s fine to be a little fearful some of the time, we are human after all but writers should take chances.

Fearless
Be Fearless torbakhopper courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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Writers should experiment. Writers who play it safe may produce a competent piece of work but it is also likely to be firmly middle of the road and unable to grab or hold a reader’s attention. On the flip side we can’t all be outliers writing experimental novels and breaking every rule just because we can. We have to find a balance.

Balance
Balance by Natalie Lucier courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Writers should push themselves. They should experiment to find their voice, their genre, their style. You may think a particular genre suits your skillset but until you experiment how will you know if there is another genre out there that fits you like a hand in a glove? Finding your creative home is very different from dwelling in your comfort zone. It is perfectly possible to challenge yourself even if you are writing a familiar concept in a genre you have written in before.

Just as we all know when we are playing it safe, so too I believe we all know when we have let our imaginations take free flight because we start to produce work that is edgier, sharper and more arresting. I think of it as writing with the handbrake off and I believe it is what we should all strive for. If you’re a little bit scared you’re probably doing it right.

Damsel in distress face downm
Damsel in Distress Face Down by Britt-knee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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So next time you catch yourself playing it safe, think about ways you can take your writing up a gear, take a chance, let yourself go without the shackles of overthinking each sentence or constantly referring to your notes which tell you character B has to do X by chapter Y and don’t whatever you do try to edit as you write.

Trust in your skill as a writer, write with the handbrake off and enjoy the ride.

Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my first novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June #FlowerSellerThursday

9780993446306
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes