I was talking with two writer friends recently on retreat. One of them is a little less experienced. She was musing on what genre she might like to write in next. She is currently writing a Young Adult but is not certain that it’s a genre she wants write in all the time. She is keen to finish her YA book but she is also eager to explore other stories in different genres to see which one suits her best.
I suggested whilst still working on the YA novel, she experiments with some short stories and see if anything grabs her. Writing short stories would give her the ability to play with different genres and different ways of writing, new voices and new methods, without committing herself to the slog of a new novel.
In other words, she should rent the story house before she buys it and writes a novel.
With all the talk of finding one’s voice as a writer, I firmly believe the best way to do that is to set yourself the task of writing a series of short stories.
Write down the names of all the genres you can think of including mash ups, mix them all up and put them face down in a pile. Then write down the style – first person, third person, single viewpoint, multi viewpoint, experimental, repeating these as many times as you need to so that you have the same number as you have genres. Mix them up and place them face down in a separate pile. Finally write down a series of random words or phrases. Make sure you have as many random words or phrases as you do genres and turn them over.
Now, from each of the piles choose a piece of paper. For example:- Crime, Third Person, Sunny Day.
Bam! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go write that story and then the next one and the next one.
Some of the genres will not suit you. Some of the stories will be a struggle to write. Some you’ll never want to read again.
There will be stories which fall squarely in your wheelhouse and with which you’ll be completely comfortable. Though fun to write, these stories won’t tell you anything about who you are as a writer that you did not already know.
It’s the stories in between where the magic happens. Like putting on a comfortable coat, genres you have never tried before will totally suit your writing style, whole new areas of writing could open up to you as a result. The only limits on your imagination are the ones you put in place.
So next time you are stuck and not sure what style suits you or which genre to concentrate on, why not rent the story house for a bit and then you’ll know whether you want to buy it or not.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So here’s the thing, I’m an introvert. You may be one as well. Chances are if you’re not you are probably sitting near one right now. There are a lot of us about. More than you think, probably because a lot of the time we hide our introverted natures behind a carefully constructed extroverted mask.
Why do we feel the need to do that? Probably because we fear judgment. We fear being singled out as being a bit odd. You want to leave the party early and be home in your jim jams on the sofa? Why, are you sick? No, I’m an introvert and I need a break from all these people. Okay?
Being introverted is a bit like being a geek (and there are a lot of those out there too!). We’re a source of wry amusement to those who think and feel differently.
I happen to believe being a geek is cool and so it being an introvert. I have accepted that if I am going to be going to a social event, even one I am looking forward to, I am going to find it draining and I am going to need some serious down time afterwards to refill the well. I have learnt the hard way that scheduling too many social commitments in too short a time period is going to lead to last minute cancellations on my part (which is something I hate doing) or exhaustion.
I can be as bright and bubbly in company as the next person if my energy levels are up. If not, forget it. So, over the years I have learned to pace myself. Whenever I take on a social engagement I always weigh up how long I’m going to be there for and schedule down time immediately afterwards and perhaps even the next day too if the social event is lengthy and particularly taxing.
Extroverts will struggle to understand this. Extroverts thrive off the social interaction. To them attending party after party is like plugging themselves into the grid and firing up. With introverts it is the polar opposite. Situations that fire up the extroverts will nine times out of ten drain the introverts.
If you are, like me, an introvert then embrace it. Don’ try to be something you are not. Trying to keep up with the extroverts in your life will not end well. Trust me, I know!
Listen to your body and if you need to refill the well then do so – without apology. We all love time in our PJs on the sofa watching bad TV or in solitude reading a good book. As introverts we just need more of it, that’s all.
The cover of The Flower Seller is taking part in Author Shout’s Cover Wars during the week of 24th July 2016 – 30th July 2016. If you like the cover I would be thrilled if you would show your support by voting for it. To vote you need to click on the link below, click to like the Author Shout facebook page, tweet, or link through Google+ You can vote once every 24 hours. Thank you!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
On the 6th of May 1840 the Penny Black stamp went on sale for the first time. “…A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” was how Rowland Hill first described the Penny Black stamp.
Until the introduction of the Penny Black postal rates across the country were high and usually based on distance travelled. The recipients were often expected to pay the cost of the postage although some items were free.
The image of Queen Victoria which appears on the stamp was based on a sculpture by William Wyon. This came from a sketch of the young queen at 15 and was to remain the image on the stamp until the end of her reign. Hopefully this made up for the fact that Queen Victoria’s free privileges where the post was concerned were withdrawn with the introduction of the new postal rates and the Penny Black.
What began in 1635 with young boys carrying letters between ‘posts’ evolved to include the first mail coach which ran on 2nd August 1784 between Bristol and London. The journey took 16 hours. Before mail coaches it would have taken up to 38 hours.
The mail coaches themselves eventually gave way in the 1840s and 1850s to the ever expanding railway.
Progress never stands still.
Nowadays we send the majority of our ‘post’ by email. With the tap of a button our email can arrive in someone’s inbox on the other side of the world within seconds of us pressing send. We can even receive their response straight back. The speed of email would have amazed our ancestors but it probably would have alarmed them too.
Email is wonderful in so many ways but it comes at a cost and I am not talking about your internet service provider. We have all experienced the stress of a full inbox, a rising sense of panic that we are never going to get on top of all the messages especially as new ones pile in.
Clearing the inbox becomes a matter of pride for some people. You feel better once it has been decluttered and messages in response fired off. Deleting emails which are of no interest can feel cathartic.
It takes skill to be in charge of your inbox rather than your inbox being in charge of you. It is however a skill we should all acquire. Don’t leap to open the inbox the second you hear the telltale sound of another message arriving. Instead try to have planned times of the day when you look at your emails. If you respond every time the message symbol appears you’ll be forever pulled away from the things you should be doing and only giving half your attention to them whilst you wait for the next message to appear.
The days of waiting 38 hours for the post to arrive are thankfully long gone. But don’t go to the other extreme and be an inbox junkie. Checking it once every few hours will be enough to keep on top of the urgent stuff and, crucially, give you the head space to get the more important things done.
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