A Tale of Two Halves – Ugly First Drafts

As a writer I find my confidence in my writing flows in and out like a tide. After a good writing session, I am buoyed up and ready to take on the world. On the flip side, sometimes a bad review can leave you wondering whether you are deluding yourself but often writers do not even need any input from the outside world to doubt themselves. We are quite capable of questioning our own self worth all by ourselves.

The blessing of a creative mind can lead to occasions of overthinking and self angst that if nothing else remind us that writing is a vocation that chooses us rather than the other way round. For who would choose to live in such torment, swinging between two extremes and hoping to catch the odd break in the middle?

Self esteem
Self esteem by Kiran Foster courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dhHCx9 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I was recently lucky enough to be commissioned to write a three part serial for a magazine. I came up with an idea and a setting and plunged into telling the story. I wrote it with the three parts very much in mind. The first part came together swiftly and I polished it up before I moved on to the middle section. Again, this came together fairly quickly and I gave it a polish.

When it came to writing the denouement, however, life got in the way. I managed to crank out the required word count and hit all the beats of the story but it had been written when I was tired and feeling frazzled and it showed.

I shared it with three friends, one a friend who doesn’t write and two who do. My non writer friend enjoyed the story. My two writing friends seized on the last part of the story, one remarking it was like it was written by a different writer.

And she was right. It was.

The last part was me getting the story down in draft with minimum polishing. The first two thirds had had care and attention lavished on them, the last part had been birthed and left.

Unfinished road
Unfinished Road Works by Captn_Jack courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/nLdh1X https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As all writers know, first drafts are ugly. All the hard work is done in the editing, re-writing and polishing that follows. But without that ugly first draft, the writer would have nothing to work on. The last part of my story has now been edited and polished and stands proudly alongside the other parts of the story as the fitting ending it was designed to be.

What is important to remember, however, is that as writers we should never to be so confident as to think that the ugly first draft is the finished product nor so lacking in confidence as to think that ugly first draft can never be transformed into something more beautiful.

Believe in yourself and your abilities and trust that everything will come good in the end. That’s the art of being a writer.

Finish
Finish by Eugene Kim courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ebkkay https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

 

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NaNoMyWay – Update

You may recall that earlier on this month I blogged about NaNoWriMo.

November calendar
November Calendar by Stephen Dann courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/r8S1z https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I didn’t have one project to concentrate on during the month – I had a competition entry I wanted to write, a 3,500-word serial I needed to write to fulfil a commission I had been given and two novellas to finish off. I am nothing if not ambitious!

Predictably, I fell short. The competition entry got ticked off the list and submitted and the serial was created, written and polished by the deadline (yay!). The novellas did not even make it on to the screen.

There were two reasons for this, one I always reach for the stars and two life just got in the way. I normally work a four-day week in my day job. In the midst of this month an emergency at work meant I had to work six days on the bounce. Ouch!

As writers, life will always intervene, and it should because the trials and tribulations of life provide so much material for writers to work with. We have to find a way to push through and carry on and so I would like to pay tribute and say congratulations to all those who stayed the path of NaNoWriMo and made it to the end of November with the skeleton of a novel ready to shape and hone.

Pen and Paper
Pen and Paper by Francois Schnell courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9qaJEC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

More especially, however, I want to say well done to all those who gave it a go but who fell short. Committing and trying is every bit as important as finishing and succeeding. Writing is a marathon and not a sprint.

The only failure is giving up entirely.

 

NaNoMyWay

NaNoWriMo

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One Pair of Hands – Ellie Holmes

NaNoWriMo is not the easiest word to write or say. I imagine it’s even harder to take part in it and succeed.

For the uninitiated NaNoWriMo stand for National Novel Writing Month and November is it.

I have always dismissed this endeavour as nonsense. Very few people can write a novel in a month and if you do it is most likely not going to be terribly good.

Then it was explained to me, very kindly, by those who take part on a regular basis that I am missing the point. NaNoWriMo is all about committing yourself to write a lot in a very short space of time and hopefully by the end of it you will have the bones, bare though they may be, of a workable novel that you can continue writing.

I still have a slight problem with the concept. If you are a writer you should have a writing timetable that you are committed to already whichever month of the year it happens to be but leaving my prejudices aside it is an interesting concept.

I did have a look at the website. You can check it out here.

https://nanowrimo.org/

I even joined my local facebook group.

I’m not one for signing up and filling in this, that and the other. If I am committing to trying to write most days, going on line to fill in a word count at the end of each session seems like a bit of a faff to me.   A lot of extra bells and whistles that takes time away from actually writing.

Nevertheless, I do have a new project I need to get underway. But, but, but….turns out if you are buying into the spirit of the thing you have to pick one project and commit to that.

I, on the other hand, have something I have been commissioned to write which needs to be written, plus two novellas that are part way through. It would be nice to clear those out of the way before starting the new project.

Consequently, I have decided to NaNoMyWay instead.

I will try to write my commissioned work and finish my two novellas and if I succeed with that I will start my new project. I’ll let you know how I get on at the end of the month.

In the meantime, to all of who you are preparing to do the official NaNoWriMo good luck and enjoy.

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

 

Winchester Writers’ Festival – Summing Up and Random Thoughts

Food (not so) Glorious Food

The festival included all breakfasts and lunches. The breakfast choice was excellent and tasty. It did what it needed to do – set everyone up for a busy day. The lunches were okay. Quiches and salads. Unimaginative but adequate.

And so to the grandly described “opening dinner”.

The previous conference I had been to (not at Winchester), had made every effort to make this event a special occasion, a true welcome to the attendees, round tables had encouraged conversation, there was decent linen and cutlery, there was a seating plan to ensure that every table had new writers, experienced writers, agents or editors and other speakers at the conference, giving everyone the opportunity to swap small talk in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere whilst enjoying tasty food.

cutlery
Cutlery by Masaaki Komori courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6vruZ9 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The evening meal at Winchester was a disappointment both in terms of the food and the set up. Fish that had been kept hot too long was barely edible with hard and tasteless batter. I had a friend who jokingly would rate professional courses in her day job by the standard of the lunch they would provide. I would give Winchester a B- and that was generous.

The tables were set up in exactly the same way as they had been at breakfast and lunch so you could only really talk to the people sitting next to you or opposite you. There was no seating plan, it was cafeteria style, get served and find a seat. Whilst I occasionally saw the flash of a blue badge – which differentiated the speakers and organisers from the writerly hordes, they appeared to settle themselves in their own separate enclaves. It had a feeling of them and us. Although to be fair there weren’t many of them there. Clearly, they had all gone into town instead. We wished we had too.

Summing Up

Leaving the disappointing food to one side, the conference was a worthwhile investment in my writing life. The chance to be amongst other writers is always a reliable way to refill the well of creativity. I will never be a conference junkie but attending an event every handful of years is a good way to reboot, you realise how far you have come and how far you still have left to go and above all you feel rejuvenated, buoyed up by all the fresh, young writers around you who have yet to experience the hard knocks of this writing life and still burn with the passion you had once and still have on the good days.

Inspire
Inspire by Roberta Romero courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/p2VH5f https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Random Thoughts

Small people with large bags.

Willowy women in floaty dresses.

Hot men in cool shirts.

Ancient buildings with calming gardens.

Burning heat and impromptu fans made of flapping conference notes.

Ferns and Hostas, a cool oasis.

Classy shops with homeless people sleeping in the doorways

Humble houses with large price tags.

Writers of all shapes and sizes

Agents who all looked the same

A keynote speaker that touched hearts as well as minds

Winchester Writers’ Festival: fun, tiring, hot, frustrating and inspiring.

The end.

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

 

Winchester Writers’ Festival – Four Courses in One Day

So here I was – four courses in one day. Polishing your Manuscript; The Language of Crime; Whodunnit – How it’s Done and finally Reaching your Readers but before I talk about them, a word about the previous evening.

The Beauty of Small Presses

My friends and I went to the Meet the Editors Panel. It was an interesting discussion marred only by poor acoustics. It highlighted the incredible work small, independent presses do. There are so many passionate people in this field of endeavour and of the ones represented on the panel most did not draw a wage from their businesses.

They obviously had a skewed view but it chimed with my own experience. At a large publishing house you run the risk of being a product, at a small press, you are a writer. It’s a very important distinction. There are some quality presses out there, some very niche, some with wider appeal. Many started their businesses in the wake of the crash and we are now blessed with a proliferation of companies giving writers more choice than ever. I would urge you not to close your minds to small presses.

heart
Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

While the previous day’s intensive, day-long course was immersive, today the four courses were each an hour long, providing no more than a whistle stop tour through the highlights of the subjects they were covering.

Press Releases

In a last minute change, I decided to swap Polishing your Manuscript for Publicising your Book with author and journalist Maria McCarthy. The key points to take from the talk were (a) ask for a copy of your press release for your files so that you can update it and use it again in the future (b) if you are asked to appear on TV think very carefully about what you are going to wear – stay away from patterns or anything that shows tan lines. Stick to bold, primary colours. Maria then talked us through what makes a great press release including the importance of the 5 Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Crime Readers are the crack cocaine users of books

Then it was on to the Language of Crime with author Helen Fields. This was an interesting talk with a standout handout – possibly the best one of the whole weekend. Helen talked about the modern crime novel which has snappy dialogue and is short on description. She described readers of crime as the crack cocaine users of books. As writers in the genre, you have to keep giving them their highs or risk them seeking them elsewhere. Readers are there for the thrill of the ride. We forget that at our peril.

Rollercoaster fun
Rollercoaster Fun by David Flood courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/XVT7zA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Next was Whodunnit and How’s It’s Done with Linda Bennett the Director and Commissioning Editor at Salt Publishing. I must have been flagging at the halfway point on a very hot day as I have very little recollection of the hour I spent in Linda’s company. My fault, I am sure, not hers.

Social Media Know How

Finally, it was on to Reaching your Readers with author M G Leonard. Wow it was hot in that room. It was late afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year and the room was packed. We were all wilting and frantically fanning ourselves just to get some air. For anyone to hold the attention of the people in that room in those conditions is testament to the force of nature that was M G Leonard. What a wonderful bundle of energy she was. Darting to and fro, looking, annoyingly, as cool as a cucumber, whilst flashing up a wonderful bullet point presentation on the screen behind her.

Social media keyboard
Social Media Keyboard by Animated Heaven courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain https://flic.kr/p/S7w8UL https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

The talk was packed full of useful stuff, funny and engaging. She also rivalled Helen Fields for the best handout of the conference although it came later by email. Her key points were that online is: a crowded marketplace, a shop window, a creative playground, a community hub, WORK, TIME CONSUMING and UNPAID [her capitals]. Her recommendations were: work out what presence you need to generate work or sell your product, figure out your strengths and use corresponding platforms, what are your criteria for success, track analytics where you can, review your presence online regularly. IS THE TIME YOU SPEND ONLINE WORTHWHILE? [my capitals].

It was a busy, tiring and informative day. With so much to take in, the beauty of the handouts came into their own. Nuggets of wise information and advice I will return to again and again as an aide memoire for the future. I would highly recommend attending talks by Helen Fields and M G Leonard, in particular, if you ever get the chance.

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

 

Inspirational Essex

Poor Essex, woefully misunderstood, maligned by those who have never visited, routinely laughed at and made fun of. If it was a character in a novel it would have you rooting for it from the first page, the underdog who would fight off its naysayers and emerge to capture the hearts of all, the hero of the piece by the end of the book.

Anyone familiar with TOWIE could be forgiven for thinking that Essex is nothing more than tanning salons, nail bars and nightclubs full of loud, image-obsessed people. We have our fair share of the latter and Essex people are often loud and proud but that is not the whole story and as a writer, I’d like to tell you why.

Look beyond what you think you know and you will find an Essex that has so much more to offer – ancient market towns, beautiful villages, rolling countryside and lovely beaches. It is the perfect mix of town and country.

Dutch Quarter Colchester
Dutch Quarter Colchester by Ben Sutherland courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/apA7Ks https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Is it any wonder then that I use my home county as a source of inspiration for my books including The Flower Seller and White Lies? Both of these books are based in and around the fictitious market town of Abbeyleigh, the inspiration for which came from Colchester (Britain’s oldest recorded town) with a nice dash of Saffron Walden thrown in.

Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle by Giborn_134 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/of5w5c https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I love the fact that in Essex, you can be in the centre of a vibrant, urban environment enjoying all the mod cons of modern life one moment and in the next you can be in the heart of the countryside. It really does have the best of both worlds. And for those who think any form of ‘culcha’ stops with the tube line, there is a vibrant music and arts scene to enjoy. For a writer, that contrast between worlds brings with it an endless source of ideas.

Royon
Roydon by Richardghawley courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/661HpS https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Essex is also blessed with a varied and interesting coastline. The genteel, almost Edwardian, feel of Frinton on Sea, gives way to the Kiss-Me-Quick culture of piers, rides and slot machines at Clacton and Southend. While West Mersea is a hub for the sailing fraternity and the oyster fisheries.

west Merseajpg
West Mersea by John Fielding courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/wxmrhr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I love nothing better than taking my dog Willow for long walks along the county’s beaches, mulling over my plots while Willow frolics on the sand and I pause to watch the kite surfers.

But it is not only the landscape of the county that inspires me, the people do too. Down to earth, hard-working and funny, Essex people take no nonsense from anyone and if someone asks for their opinion they’ll give it to them straight, no messing. We may have a predilection for bling and Prosecco but there are worst vices to have.

Prosecco
Raval by James West courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bvFWbe https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t think you know Essex because of what you’ve heard and seen – there is so much more to my home county that is just waiting to be discovered. Why not find out for yourself and pay us a visit?

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

 

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

This article first appeared on FemaleFirst.co.uk

http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/ellie-holmes-white-lies-1077670.html