Takeaways from being on retreat

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Takeaway
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I was recently on a writers’ retreat for a week and what a glorious and blissful week it was: fabulous surroundings, fantastic company and space to think and write.

But how to keep that vibe going now that I am home again and normal life has to resume?

Having been in a wonderful bubble of creativity surrounded by like minded friends, it is of course impossible to recreate that feeling back at home when the hoovering needs doing, the dog is barking and there is a teetering ironing pile (heap?) which is calling to be done. But I need to try.

My top five takeaways from my recent retreat:-

1.  It’s important to have time and space to let your imagination off the leash away from a computer screen or notepad.

Otherwise known as day dreaming, it is easy for this vital activity for writers to be crushed by the demands of the everyday. I am pretty good at doing this whether on retreat or not because walking my dog Willow is perfect daydreaming time. So that’s one box ticked.

2.  It’s important to write what you feel.

I went on retreat with a plan of the projects I wanted to work on. I came back from retreat with none of those projects progressed BUT I did come back with a short story/serial which with some polishing I should be able to sell to a women’s magazine and which I am excited to keep working on.

The takeaway here is not to be too stringent with ourselves about what we are choosing to write. The important thing is that we are writing.

3. It is wonderful to have a group of writers who are now firm friends with whom to discuss the mechanics of writing, the difficulties of particular genres, what’s selling and what isn’t and how we see our careers developing.

The takeaway here is that whilst writing is a solitary business, all writers need a support network to fall back on or reach out to.

Social media can fill that gap if you aren’t lucky enough to have a writers’ group close by but nothing can quite make up for a lively debate/discussion over a good meal as the wine flows.

4. It was wonderful to have nothing in the schedule other than to write.

It is of course impossible to recreate that feeling now I’m home but the takeaway is we all need to make time for writing because time won’t present itself and say now you can write. Chores will always need doing, bills will always need paying, day jobs need to be done. It is up to us as writers to cherish and value our work enough to place it higher up the to do list. One hour a day for five days a week is surely doable, isn’t it?

5. I enjoy writing.

That might seem like an odd statement for a writer to make but it is all too easy to forget why we do this job sometimes.   The beauty of taking an idea, working on it and producing something from the rough clay that can be moulded into a finished story is a thing of wonder. One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to remember to make writing fun. On retreat, writing was fun. I need to bring that mindset next time, and every time, I sit down at my desk to work. And that’s something all writers should try to do.

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Happy Writing!

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

 

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On Retreat

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As you are reading this I am presently on a writers’ retreat. We may be minutes from a busy town, but I am happily ensconced in a time warp idyll surrounded by bucolic countryside. A salve to the mind and a huge inspiration creatively.

On Retreat
The view from my bedroom window

I am lucky enough to belong to an extraordinary writers’ group. There are seven of us in the group and we are all novelists, some traditionally published, some indie published, some hybrid and some unpublished. We meet once a month in a local bookshop when we celebrate any successes members of the group have had, usually with Prosecco, we critique two pieces of work, taking it in turns and discuss any writing related subjects that happen to come out of our discussions.

A group of different people, most of whom did not know each other before joining, brought together by their shared love of writing have, as time has gone on, become firm friends. We are a support base, a sounding board, a ready made set of beta readers and a sympathetic ear when things don’t quite go to plan.

In addition to our monthly meetings, we already have a summer meet up for wine, nibbles and chat and a Christmas meal at which a lucky dip of a preloved book is swapped with another member of the group.

It was my idea to float the retreat with my friends in the group. I had always been intrigued by the idea of a retreat. We all lead such busy lives and finding time to write is precious. I had in mind that maybe three or four members of the group might be interested and we could rent a little cottage by the sea.

To my surprise and delight, all seven members of the group wanted to come. Bang went that cottage by the sea. Worse was to come. No one in the group wanted to share a bedroom. First world problems and all that. In my mind, I upgraded from country house to mansion.

A fellow member of the group found the most extraordinary place. Mansion does not do it justice (and no I am not going to tell you where it is because we want to come back!).

We write in our own individual spaces all morning, come together for lunch, have a group session on a particular aspect of writing between 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm and then either take a walk in the garden or the woodland, have a siesta or, if we want to be very industrious we can go back to writing. We break between five and six in the evening for a glass of something fizzy on the terrace and enjoy our evening together over a meal and several bottles of wine.

Everyone, prior to the retreat, was asked to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by the theme or title of May Day. The competition entries have to remain anonymous and have been available downstairs in the hall for all of us to dip into. It has been fun trying to work out who wrote what.

On our last night we have splashed out on a private caterer to come in and cook us a three course meal. At the end of the meal we will each be given a competition entry to read aloud. Then we will all vote (anonymously) for our favourite. The winner and runner up will receive a prize and we will then see how close we all came to guessing which story belonged to which writer. It should be a fun way to end a fabulous writing break.

I have never been on a writing retreat before but as I was the one who suggested we do this it would have been bad form not to go along. I am so glad I did. I feel as though we are living in a creative bubble and leaving here and going back to reality will be hard to do.

We are already talking about making this an annual event.

I made plans about the projects I wanted to work on but staying in such an extraordinary setting has swept me along. Voices of characters I never thought I would write about have  demanded that I tell their story. Four and a half thousand words later, I have a short story or serial that is ready to go. I also have the memories: fabulous company, great food, lovely surroundings and brilliant weather. As writing retreats go, I think we struck gold.

I cannot speak for writers’ retreats generally and going away with strangers may have been more problematic but if you belong to a writers’ group or if you have a set of writing friends who all get along well together, why not find a house to accommodate you all and step back from real life for three or four days to rest, recuperate, fill the creative well and write. Like me, I am sure you will be really glad you did.

Happy writing!

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

 

Alone in a crowd

When people think of indie publishing they think of one person multi tasking, swapping between being a writer, being an editor, being a formatter and being a promoter. There are some writers (and I take my hat off to you) who do all those things themselves. Most of us have a team we rely on to help us do the jobs we cannot do ourselves or don’t have time to do.

But beyond that group of people are a wider support network which form such an important part of an indie writer’s support system and most of them the writer has probably never met. I’m talking about the online support groups. Most writers belong to a few of these. They can be enriching, entertaining, informative, sometimes frustrating but always worthwhile – at least when you find the ones that suit you best.

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And that’s the beauty of support groups – there are a lot of them out there and every writer will be sure to find at least one group they feel comfortable with. As with other aspects of life, one man’s meat is another man’s poison and just because your writing friend raved about a particular group doesn’t mean you will find them worth committing time to.   You have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince (sorry – blame the romance writer in me for that analogy!).

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One group I was fortunate enough to discover very early in my indie writing career was the Alliance of Independent Authors. If you are not familiar with Alli and are an independent author I strongly suggest you check out the Alli site. If you need to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s new in independent publishing, best practices and so much more check out the link to their website below:-

https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/

If you have a favourite writing based group you belong to, why not tell us all about it either in the comments section below or perhaps in your own blog post and send me a link. Why not share the love?

 

How To Be A Writer

Pen and Ink by Heather s
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  1. Write.
  2. Write.
  3. Write some more.

Okay, you get the picture…

  1. Do something writing related every day.

Really it’s the only way. Have a routine. If you can carve out a few precious minutes each day what you achieve will amaze you. I read that it takes a couple of weeks to establish a new habit so stick with it.

I try to write 5,000 words per week (not counting blog posts!). I know that target is doable alongside my other commitments. Don’t set your targets too high, however. If you constantly miss them you’ll wind up feeling depressed which will be counter-productive.

Organised Chaos
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But your writing related activity needn’t only contribute towards the word count for your work in progress. In addition to that it could be catching up on a webinar on an aspect of the writing business you need guidance on. It could be researching a topic you need for your book. It could be choosing editors or cover designers if you are self-published.

If you are engaged in the business of writing and serious about what you are doing and have the commitment and the strength of will to keep going for longer than a few weeks you are a writer. Being a writer is not about having a deal or not having a deal. It is not about traditional publishing or self-publishing. It is about the commitment. You either write or you don’t. Simple as that.

This was the story of huricane
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  1. Experiment with writing styles and genres until you find the one that suits you best.

You’ll be familiar with the need to ‘find your voice’. Unlike loose change and the TV remote control you can’t find your voice down the back of the sofa. If only it were that simple. It took me a long while to find mine. Years, in fact. It took so long that I despaired. I started to believe it would be easier to find a unicorn…in a top hat…on New Year’s Eve…in Trafalgar Square than ever locate my mythical voice. And then one day, out of the blue, it turned up. There it was in my new work in progress winking back at me from the computer screen. What had changed? Well, that’s something for another blog post but suffice it to say when at last it did arrive, writing in that style felt so natural that I wondered why it had taken me so long!

D'oh24.3.16
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Some people are lucky enough to hit their stride early on and that’s great. But if you haven’t experienced that hand-in-glove feeling yet don’t despair. Just keep working and one day you’ll find a unicorn in a top hat winking back at you from your computer screen and all will be well with the world.

Until that happens, flash fiction is a great way to try out new styles to see if they suit.

  1. Make contact with other writers.

I blogged a few weeks ago about the importance of Writers’ Groups https://goo.gl/muSwKV If you can find a writers’ group local to you ask if you can join. Facebook and Twitter are two more great ways to link up with other writers.

Writers hear voices in their heads. It’s a well known fact. It’s something good writers encourage. We let our characters out to play while we’re walking the kids to school or washing the car or preparing a meal. It’s all a dress rehearsal ready for when we are back in front of the keyboard and ready to let our imaginations off the leash. For writers this is perfectly normal behaviour. For most other people it is not.

Other writers get that. They don’t instinctively move away from you on learning the above. They move CLOSER. Other writers totally get the euphoric highs and maddening lows in a way non writer family and friends just can’t appreciate. Writing is a lonely business. Writers need other writers. It’s all very well to suffer for your art but don’t be noble about it. Reach out to other writers who can sympathise, encourage, discuss or celebrate with you. Writing is a tough road. You don’t have to walk it on your own every single day.

Lonely Road 24.3.16
Walking Down a Lonely Road by Jason courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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  1. Ask for constructive criticism from fellow writers and well-read friends. Listen to what they have to say and learn from it.

This is essential. If you exist in a bubble without input from others you cannot grow unless (a) you are incredibly enlightened or (b) talented. The rest of us need feedback from others to understand where we are with our writing generally and our work in progress in particular.

Just remember, don’t ask the question if you’re not ready to deal with the answer. You want honesty but honesty can sometimes hurt which leads us to my last point.

  1. Grow a thick skin.

Criticism hurts. Not all of it will be constructive. Your blood will boil. Your head will spin like a character out of a horror movie and while you are cutting up the veg for dinner you will be plotting ever more wild methods of revenge on whoever you feel has done you wrong. Work it out, suck it up and move on. Never give in to the desire to confront someone. You’ll regret it in the morning.

The same goes for rejection. No one likes to be rejected. For writers it’s a hazard of the trade and sometimes the rejections have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Who said life was fair?

I always think in this actors have the upper hand. At least when they go for an audition they might already know the physical characteristics of the character they are trying out for. If the director is looking for someone to play an athlete anyone who doesn’t measure up to that physical ideal is setting themselves up for rejection. Why did they bother? They didn’t stand a chance!

Odd One Out2
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With writers, it’s not that easy. If you’re going down the traditionally published route you can research publishing houses and imprints and find one that suits your style but from then on you are in the dark. Writing trends come and go. Your book might be great but that particular editor really wants to find a happy Scandinavian detective and your book doesn’t have one. Of course it could have one after a swift re-write if they only told you what they are looking for but it doesn’t work like that. However good your book is it will be rejected on personal choice a lot of the time. It’s not you it’s them.

I know because it happened to me. An editor looked at one of my manuscripts once. The hero was called David. In her notes about why she was rejecting the book it soon became clear she didn’t like ‘Dave’ as she called him. She didn’t like him one little bit. In fact, she took against pretty much everything ‘Dave’ said, did or stood for. Her dislike of ‘Dave’ radiated out of every word. The other characters barely got a look in. Others editors had looked at the manuscript and whilst also rejecting it for a myriad reasons, poor old ‘Dave’ had not been one of them. As my hero was called David and nobody shortened his name anywhere in the book I concluded the editor had obviously had a very bad experience with someone called Dave and my book had touched a raw nerve. In her eyes Dave was most certainly not hero material. That was a deal I was never going to get through no fault of my own because two years before I had chosen my hero’s name and, I surmise, someone of the same name in real life had broken that editor’s heart. There is nothing you can do but shrug and move on.

If you are a writer, you will write. Nothing and no one will stop you. And whilst it can be painful and terrifying, isolating and heart breaking, it can also be uplifting, invigorating, entertaining and joyous. If you were born to write, you will. Serious writers don’t choose to be writers. Writing chooses us.

This post follows on from last week’s post about How [NOT] To Be A Writer. You can check that our here https://goo.gl/LcG7Ip

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 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday

The Flower Seller Kindle edition is now available to pre-order from Amazon via my website http://goo.gl/0Gv8Jg 

9780993446306
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

 

 

Would you like to share with the group…?

Meerkats
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Writers are often encouraged to belong to writers’ groups and there are certainly plenty of them around. In all shapes and sizes, you will find them in most small towns and every city. So finding a writers’ group in your local area should be relatively easy. Finding the right sort of writers’ group, however, is a much trickier proposition.

Search
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Firstly, you have to determine what you want to get from a writers’ group and, crucially, how much you are willing to give in return. That old saying about you only get back what you put in is as true for writers’ groups as it is in many other areas of life. Someone who shows up to as many meetings as they can, who actively engages in the group’s activities and makes an effort to get on with everybody is going to find participation a lot more enjoyable than someone who holds themselves aloof and doesn’t really want to engage.

Odd One Out
The Odd One Out by Sabrina M courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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If you are a novel writer, a poetry group may be an interesting diversion but it is unlikely to help you develop your skills as a writer in anything other than an abstract way. If short stories are your bag, people launching themselves into a 100,000 word novel are going to have a whole different set of reference points to your own. Find a group that specializes in the type of writing you do. You don’t have to be genre specific if you are a novel writer. Indeed, I think belonging to a group with a mix of genres is best because it gives you a different perspective on how other types of novel are created.

If you are serious about writing and have specific career goals, you want your group to be comprised of like-minded individuals. Lots of writers write for fun and are happy to be hobbyists but a group made up of hobbyists will not be suitable for a career oriented writer who wants to grow and push themselves.

Sickly sweet
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Ideally your group will consist of writers at different stages of their careers. This gives you a wonderful overview of the writing world in general. From the creation of material to the approaching of agents and editors and, if you have published authors, indie or otherwise, amongst your number an insight into the actual business of writing – marketing, sales, publicity.

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Writers should never underestimate the power of a writing group. A good one can energize and inspire you. They can also be there for you during the down times. Whilst family and friends try to be supportive only other writers can truly understand your frustration at trying to nail a particular character or work out a fiendish plot twist. To have members of the group at the end of an email between meetings is invaluable as a kind word or constructive advice can be the difference between turning the laptop off and indulging in a spot of reality TV or ploughing on and working through the problem.

Help
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Once you have identified your core group and if you have the time and the inclination, you can always stretch yourself and join a second group particularly if you have split disciplines or just a hankering to do something different.

Odd One Out2
Odd One Out by Philip Male courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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I am fortunate enough to belong to two writers’ groups. One is a group for novelists. We are an eclectic bunch writing at least 9 different genres (some of us writing in more than one!). The mix of genres is brilliant. Each genre brings with it its own particular set of intricacies and problems. We critique a section of writing from two different writers each meeting. We always ensure that whilst the critiques are honest they are also constructive. Writers’ groups should not exist to batter writers’ egos into submission or to massage them. They should be there to quietly and consistently encourage, so that everyone progresses no matter what stage they are at. We learn as much from critiquing other people’s works as we do from having our own work scrutinized.

Defining Learning
Defining Learning by Linda Hartley Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The second group I belong to is a flash fiction group. I was unsure about this group at the start purely because I don’t write a lot of flash fiction. I found it fiendishly difficult to begin with and sometimes still do but it is also very enjoyable and they, too, are a great bunch of people. We pick out a title from a tin of suggestions and have to write a piece of flash fiction as homework which we read out at the next meeting. Then, at the meeting itself, we pick out another two titles and have to write pieces of flash fiction during the meeting itself.

It was utterly terrifying at the start and is only marginally less so now! I have mixed results so far as quality is concerned but this group is all about testing yourself and writing completely different things than you are used to. It’s all about saying goodbye to your comfort zone and pushing yourself. I have written pieces that I would never have written without this group and yet have thoroughly enjoyed producing them. I can literally feel my writers’ muscles being stretched at each meeting and that can only be a good thing.

Stretch
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If you don’t yet belong to a writers’ group, I hope I have whetted your appetite and that you will hunt out one that suits you.

If you do belong to a writers’ group please share with us what you get out of the experience.

Today’s blog is the fourth 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