Time to Write – Part Two

The thing about writing is you have to sit down and get it done. There are no shortcuts. Just you and the keyboard in harmony or despair – sometimes both in the same half an hour.

I have discovered the key to finding time to write is not to go looking for it in the first place. Your life will already be filled or else your natural instinct to want to relax will kick in. There is no free time to write. That is why you have to carve it out of your everyday routine. It is the only sustainable way to achieve your long term goals and call yourself a writer unless you have invented the ability to stretch time in which case call me.

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I happen to be a morning person. I love mornings! I am an early riser, the earlier the better. I love the solitude the new day brings when it is just me, my dog and a cup of tea as the world wakes up around me. I find writing early in the morning easy. Mentally, I get out of the way and just let the words flow. I do keep one eye on the clock because I have a forty-five minute window to make the magic happen. The reason I have a wonderful forty-five minute window? I get up early just to write.

It’s no good asking an evening person to do what I do. It would be like asking me to write good stuff at ten o’clock at night. It’s not going to happen.

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Once you know what suits your natural rhythms you will know the best time of day (or night) to write. Then you will need something to aim for – a set period of time or a word count target. I have both. I try for 1,000 words in my forty-five minute window.

If I have had a break from my morning routine I know that the first few mornings back in the saddle will take some adjusting to. I did this a couple of weeks ago – the first day I managed no more than 300 words, the second day it was 750. By the third day I had hit my stride. I didn’t beat myself up about not reaching the target on the first two days. I was simply pleased with the quality of what I wrote and the fact that I had SHOWED UP.

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Sometimes writing is all about demonstrating your commitment to the project and in yourself as a writer. Showing up for a writing session, day after day, is what gets a book written. We can all hit a rich seam of creativity for a few hours at a time but it is the sheer slog that pushes a writer over the finish line.

So my tips for getting the writing done are simple:-

  1. Find the time of day or night that suits the rhythms of your body best and carve out writing time from it.
  2. Set yourself a realistic limit on time and/or word count for your writing sessions.
  3. Show up, day after day, week after week.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short of your word count target, just be pleased you still showed up.
  5. If you break the routine of showing up, get back to it as soon as you can.
  6. When you reach a milestone in your work in progress choose a little treat for yourself.
  7. Keep showing up until the book is finished.

Before you know where you are, you will be ticking milestones off your list and your writing sessions will be incorporated into your days as if they have always been there.




Time to write?

One thing is guaranteed in life – there is never enough time.

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To find time for all the things we have to do in life is bad enough. For a lot of writers the situation is even worse. Writing often isn’t the day job. Writing is the job we do after/before/around the day job. It may once have been a hobby but has become, often to our delight, another career. If you are an indie or hybrid author, you also have to balance all the business demands that have to be met. If you are not careful that delight can turn to overload and then panic which usually results in you being less productive and extremely stressed. Not the position you want to be in when you are trying to make your dreams come true.

Time by John Morgan courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The work of a writer is labour intensive. The business side of it equally so. Most of us don’t have the luxury of employing staff or even have willing family or friends to whom we could farm out some duties. In any event, most writers are control freaks who even if offered competent help would probably turn it down in fear of what might happen if they relinquish the reins of control.

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When your one time hobby becomes a job, especially a second job, how do you ever find time for a new hobby that takes you out of yourself and gives you a chance to relax?

We are not designed to be Duracell bunnies, happily banging cymbals together without any down time. It may be sustainable for a short stretch of time but you cannot live like that for long without the cracks starting to show either in your health, your relationships or the fact you start making mistakes.

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We are all familiar with the timeless plot of many stories. You know how it goes – our hero/heroine finds themselves downtrodden and put upon, then has to find a way to improve their lot and achieve a happy ending. A lot of writers are living that plot but without the happy ending.

Next week I will share some of the tips I have adopted to help me get the work done but not lose my sanity along the way.

All writers deserve a happy ending to the work/life balance conundrum and there isn’t a one size fits all answer so I am keen to hear how you manage your writing time and what strategies you adopt when you feel your work/life balance getting out of control.


The importance of teamwork

As the John Donne quote says ‘No man is an island’. I have recently been working on a large project for my day job. The scale of the job was huge and the logistics of it were all a little terrifying. Having identified a problem and offered a solution it was down to me to put the plan into action and make it happen. The weight of responsibility I felt was so heavy I tried not to think about it too often. If you’re walking along a ledge don’t look down!

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There were a few occasions in the planning stage when I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew but I was so far in there was no way out by then. I did a lot of planning but the best bit of planning I did was in picking the team of people I would be working with. I asked two colleagues to assist knowing they were hard workers, sensible and trustworthy. I also hired outside help, working with someone with whom I have worked before and who, again, I knew to be hardworking, sensible and trustworthy. He then brought two more people with him. When you trust the person you choose to work with, it becomes easy to trust their judgment on the people they are bringing along and so it was.

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The six of us made a formidable team. There were no weak links. We all brought something slightly different to the project and consequently the mountain of a task that had seemed so unassailable a few weeks ago has now (almost) been scaled.

It is amazing what a strong team of people can achieve when working towards a common goal.

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As crucial as it is to pick the right people to work with it is just as important to lead by example. You should never ask someone to do something which you are not prepared to do yourself and you should never allow your team to put themselves in danger, even if it means taking on those tasks yourself if they absolutely have to be done.

A strong team that brings the best out of the people within it is just about invincible as I have discovered this week. So next time you have a project that is too big to cope with alone be sure to pick your team wisely and part of the battle will already have been won.

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What puppies can teach writers

As some of you will know I recently welcomed a puppy into my life. A puppy + writing = zero productivity (in my experience so far!) so why would I suggest writers can learn anything from puppies?

My puppy is intrepid. She is stubborn. She is strong and she is determined.

These are all qualities we writers need by the bucket load.

Willow is also a problem solver. I screened off various parts of my garden to prevent her from getting into areas where she might get into difficulty. These naturally became the only parts of the garden she was interested in playing in. It was fascinating to watch as she quickly worked out various ways to scale walls, belly flop through trellises and jump through wicker hurdles. Personally I think she has been watching too much of the Olympics on TV! She thinks she’s a gymnast not a dachshund.

It is her absolute determination to overcome the obstacles put in front of her that has been so captivating. She would try the direct approach and when that didn’t work she would come at the problem from a new angle until she figured it out.

Barriers by Devin Stein courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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As writers we face a lot of obstacles. Some are common to all writers. Some are specific to trad published or indie published. One thing is for sure we have to be expert problem solvers. Leaving aside the complexities of managing characters and plot, finding your genre, finding your home, takes time.

We have to be prepared to travel down a lot of roads. We start out full of expectation but quickly discover we have either wandered into an impenetrable forest or wound up at a dead end. Time to retrace our steps and start over.

Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Close your Eyes and Surrender to your Darkest Dreams by MartinaK15 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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It’s the writers who keep trying to solve the puzzle, who are determined to figure out a way round or through the obstacles, that succeed.

It’s only natural to be frustrated when something you thought would be a slam dunk turns out not to be. It’s all grist to a writer’s mill. Just keep going.

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So far as Willow is concerned all the barriers in the garden have now been removed. There was no point in keeping them. She was just too smart but above all her persistence paid off. I guess it’s why they call it dogged determination!

The Flower Seller Cover and Blurb
Have love and loyalty gone out of fashion? The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes available from Amazon now https://goo.gl/KFi7kw

Can anyone be an author?

In the broadest sense yes. With a bit thought, application and practice we can all write something of merit be it a Facebook post of a tweet. But it takes a certain type of person to be an author of books.

Typewriter by Sarah Scicluna courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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Essential qualities all authors must have:-

  1. Realism – it’s a tough world out there for writers.
  2. Optimism – someone, someday will see my potential.
  3. Pain management – it hurts to write (if you’re doing it properly), it hurts not to write (if you are driven to write).
Pain by Lien C. Lau courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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4. Levelheadedness – they love me, they love me not. Rejection can be death by a thousand cuts. Can you withstand that and come back writing?

5. The ability to daydream – Where do you think all those crazy ideas come from – even the ones that never make it to the page.

6. Dogged determination – Never give up, never give up, never give up!

Determination by Emil Ovemar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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7. Pragmatism – if something isn’t working, is there a way of doing it better or doing it differently?

8. Stamina – It’s a long haul to write a book, a longer haul to edit and market it. Have you got what it takes to become the literary equivalent of a marathon runner.

9. A thick skin – they said what about me? Shrug your shoulders and move on – it’s not you, it’s them!

10. The ability to multi task – there will always be at least three writing related things to do – six if you are an indie author. Make like an octopus!

Octopus by Karyn Christner courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Can anyone be an author? Yes but to be a successful one I think you need all of the above. What do you think?

The Flower Seller Cover and Blurb
Have love and loyalty gone out of fashion? The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes available from Amazon now https://goo.gl/KFi7kw


Bumps in the road

Bumpy ride
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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 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 by Prayitno courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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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

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 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.

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
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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
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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

The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes